He was in the time-out chair again. He was in and out of it all day long as we struggled back and forth for what I assumed was control. After all, that’s what they tell us about kids, isn’t it? They’ll try to run the show. They’ll attempt to overthrow your authority and run you right over if you let them. Oh, and if you let them by with anything, even once, you’re done for. I just figured his “terrible two” stage had hit. I’d been warned about this stage, so I knew it was coming, and I was determined to get control before he got so out of hand, I’d never be able to manage him…
Let’s rewind for a moment to a day just a year prior. A day when we were playing peek-a-boo, and I laughed as he threw the cover off his head again and giggled uncontrollably. A day when we watched the silly tiger video for the third time and danced around the living room to the music. He used to fall asleep every night with his hand up my shirt sleeve. I was his security blanket. And he was mine, because nothing felt more secure than loving and being loved like this.
Let’s rewind a bit farther to the time I cheered him on as he took his first steps. Standing in front of him, arms outstretched, as he wobbled toward me, he was completely trusting that I would catch him if he fell. How about we go back to the moment they placed him in my arms? This little boy wrapped in a blue blanket, with his perfect little lips, was the miracle I’d wanted for so long. He is a gift. My little love.
Fast forward to the time-out scene again, now. He’s sitting there, not looking at me, tears streaming down his cheeks. I’m feeding his baby brother, tears streaming down mine, too. How did we get to this? Is this really going to be how our story goes? It had started out so beautifully, but this – this felt very wrong. This felt heartbreaking. We were disconnected. The trust was falling away.
If that sounds a bit dramatic for a time-out, understand that this is my super sensitive child. The one who cries at commercials about homeless animals. He’s the same one who wanted to open a waffle stand at the age of 8 so he could sponsor a child with Compassion International. The same sensitive soul that asks us to catch bugs that enter the house and put them outside unharmed. He feels deeply. It’s his gift, and it also became my gift because it led me to find a different way to parent him – a way that didn’t break his heart. Conventional discipline was too harsh for my super-feeling boy, and so I turned to positive parenting. I sought a way to teach and guide him that strengthened our bond rather than destroy it. I found a way to honor his tender spirit while also being the positive leader he needed.
We’re so accustomed to parenting being a struggle. We expect it. We deal with it. We fight back and forth for “control.” The warnings never end. “Just wait until she hits the terrible twos.” “Ha! Threes are way worse!” “That’s nothing. Wait until you have a teenager!” We are already poised and ready for battle by the second birthday. But we don’t have to be. We can say, “This is not how my story will go. I choose love.”
The trap of conventional parenting is that the techniques we use to force compliance are often the ones that cause the disconnection that leads to us needing to force compliance. Connection is the key because it’s where our genuine authority lies. When I shifted from authoritarian to light reflector, I was able to rebuild our connection and reclaim my joy in parenting.
Here are my tips for transitioning from conventional parenting to positive parenting:
1. Reframe parenting goals and roles. When my goal shifted from controlling behavior to leading my child to his fullest potential, the way I approached everything changed. I took on the role of encourager, mentor, and guide, dropping the role of judge and jury of behavior. I also took a look at the messages I believed about children and parenting and challenged them with information on child development.
2. Reframe discipline. Rather than seeing discipline as something I did to my child, I started viewing it as something I was trying to instill in him. I realized if I wanted him to learn how to manage frustration or to be responsible or to get along with his brother, he wasn’t going to learn it with his nose in a corner. I had to teach him how to do those things rather than just punish him for not knowing.
3. Learn how to decode behavior. Understanding what is driving a child’s behavior is key in coaching her to improving it. We tend to want to punish immature or childish behavior that we find inconvenient, but is punishment necessary in those instances? While blatant disrespect for people or property should not be tolerated, most “misbehavior” needs worked through, not punished.
4. Become a problem-solver. When transitioning away from punishments, it’s good to have a goal to stick to. Otherwise, you might lean toward permissiveness or fall back into punitive parenting. Discipline is not the same as punishment, nor is it the absence of punishment. Discipline is teaching a child how to have self-discipline, i.e., teaching him how to manage his own emotions and behaviors. For example, if a 6 year old girl gets angry with her sister and knocks over her block tower, the problem is that she doesn’t know how to appropriately manage her anger. What’s the solution? Six minutes in her room or time spent working on anger management tools and practice using them?
Find a supportive community, like my Facebook community, and stand strong in your decision to reconnect and reclaim joy!
Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” – Brene Brown
In my new book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, I share my hard-won insights on giving up the conventional parenting paradigm to reconnect heart to heart with my children. I believe parenting is about so much more than discipline, so I discuss important topics less spoken about making this a unique book about building lasting family bonds and reclaiming joy in parenting.