As I’ve grown and learned as a parent, my disciplining style has uniquely differed from that which was applied to me as a child. I’ve consciously chosen to train my children in a different manner. For some things that I might have gotten a spanking or scolding for growing up, I choose to allow my children the choice to go against what I’ve suggested and learn the consequences of their actions on their own. I’m not saying that I let them do whatever they want. Far from it! Nor do I allow them to get hurt to make my point. But, there are times when I tell them to do something and clearly state the results of them doing otherwise. And if they choose not to do as I said, I do not punish or scold, but kindly allow them to endure the consequences of that choice.
For instance, some of the authorities in my life as a child insisted that I clean my plate. I always wondered why I couldn’t just save the leftovers for later, when I was hungry again. But whether I was full or not was irrelevant, I was to eat every last bite of that meal or be heavily scolded. One time in particular I had the stomach flu, though I was too young to explain that to my step-dad who was forcing me to eat what he’d ordered for me whether I wanted it or not. I threw that meal up all over the car on the way home.
Sometimes, children can’t tell us why they aren’t hungry. Maybe they feel sick. Maybe they just aren’t hungry yet. I don’t feel it’s very fair to force them to eat when they clearly don’t feel like eating. What if you weren’t hungry but some intimidating authority was hovering over you demanding that you swallow every last bite?
I guess I really embrace the importance of listening to your child, respecting their feelings, and treating them the way that we would want to be treated.
So, when I set dinner in front of my children, and they don’t want it, they don’t have to eat it. But I won’t make anything else for them. They won’t get any sort of dessert. And they will go to bed hungry. They have learned, if they want to be picky eaters, then they may have to have a growling tummy until the next meal. If they want dessert, they might have to tolerate eating something that’s not their favorite in order to get it. And if they choose to excuse themselves from the dinner table without eating a thing, then they are free to do so. But dinner time is dinner time. And when it’s over, it’s over. If they decide they are hungry an hour later, I’m sorry, but dinner is over and cleaned up and I will not get it all out again.
I admit. There have been times when what I’ve cooked was just NOT good. When the food is admittedly bad, I will make something else for them. I do not expect them to eat anything I would not eat myself. But, if it’s steamed broccoli that they are refusing, then the consequences of not eating it is on them.
When my children don’t have a clean bedroom, they don’t get to watch a movie. They know that every time they come to me asking if they can watch something, my first response will be a very sweet, “Is your room clean?” Of course, I already know the answer to that. How great it is when they are able to say, “Yes!!” But when they know they have a mess to pick up, they will usually hurry to their rooms to get it all in order.
With that said, I do not allow their rooms to be destroyed until they are hoping to watch a movie. When things get out of control and remain in chaos for a few days, I have to step in and instruct a clean up time. If it comes to that point, things change a little. It do not bribe them to clean their room for a movie. If I’ve had to tell them to clean their room, then they know they have a set amount of time to do so, usually 30 minutes, which I think is very reasonable. If things aren’t cleaned up significantly within that time frame, when the timer goes off, it’s my turn to clean… and when mommy cleans the room it isn’t fun. Mommy cleans with a garbage bag. Everything that is left out of place goes into the garbage bag. No, I don’t throw it all away (though I’m SO tempted to at times!). But I do put it away somewhere for at least a month. The children are taught that if they are not going to take care of their things, and put them where they belong when they are done playing with them, then perhaps they are not ready to be responsible for that many toys.
No yelling. No scolding. No fussing or punishments. Just swift action with a sweet spirit.
I don’t force the children to share their toys with each other. Jada has her toys, Titus has his. If one wants to play with the other’s toy, they have to ask. You don’t teach somebody to share by forcing them to do so, though I do my best to encourage them to. They learn that when they do share, it feels good, and the gesture is often quickly reciprocated. As adults, if the government (our authority) came in and forced us to share our food, or tools, or home, with others who wanted them, how would we feel? Angry. Helpless. Resentful! Is that how we want our children to feel toward each other? Toward us? Of course not. So forcing them is not an effective way to teach generosity.
Since Jada is the oldest I talk to her sometimes about how she is an example to her younger brother and sister. If she shows them generosity, then they will learn to be sharing with her as well. But if she is stingy and does not share her things every now and then, then she will teach her siblings to do the same toward her. Oh, how precious it is to watch when they choose to give to each other freely. You can see how good it makes them both feel. And I make sure to praise their actions when I see this.
This same idea goes for their bedrooms. That is their sanctuary, and they do not have to allow each other in, though more often than not, they are playing together in one of their rooms. But if Jada asks Ty to please leave her bedroom because she would like to play alone for a while, he must respect that. And vice versa. They are taught that if they want their feelings to be respected, then they must respect others.
If one of the kids just can’t control their crying, then they are allowed to do so in their room where nobody else has to hear it. If it continues to be a problem, then I assume they are tired and they get put to bed. They are taught that just because they are miserable it doesn’t mean they have to make everybody around them miserable as well.
If Jada complains about doing her school work, or a chore, she gets more. The more she complains, the more work she gets. I am trying to teach her to be thankful for the little work she has to begin with; it could always be worse! It doesn’t take much before she realizes that if she were wise she would stop complaining and just get it done.
These are just a few examples of how I try to train through consequences. Not every situation gets the same treatment. Sometimes an action deserves a time-out. Sometimes they will even get a spanking. But usually… usually… natural consequences are enough to encourage and teach good behavior.