True Discipline

Posted on September 18th, by Sara Cole 2 comments

In short succession this past week, I’ve had two experiences that illustrate differing ideas about discipline beautifully. Last Saturday, I took my kids to a Sounders soccer game.  I bought the tickets the morning of the game for $5, and we took the light rail to avoid traffic and parking.  The train, not surprisingly, was packed with green-shirted fans. My daughter (9), quickly found a seat, but my son Theo (11) and I were left standing near her in the aisle.

Now, one of the things I know about Theo is that for him, physical affection (aka roughhousing) is love. A hug is okay, but a big hug where I pretend gravity is weighing me down and I might crush him makes him glow with delight.  A kiss is bearable, but a kiss with silly kitten-like pouncing, batting and head-rubbing turns him all soft and jello-like. So, on the train, I started resting my chin on his head.  And then leaning my whole body weight on him until he squeaked.  We played all sorts of little pushing, pulling, leaning and squishing sorts of games for the 20 minute ride. While we greatly enjoying the action both on the field and in the crowd, when the kids got hot, tired, and overstimulated we left at half-time. Theo and I played a lot more of the same physical games on the ride home.

Once we got home from the game, it was time to start dinner.  Helping in the kitchen is low on Theo’s list of fun, so he usually disappears quickly.  Instead, he followed me around like a puppy, asking how he could help, jumping to set the table even before I asked, and peppering me with various conversations about the soccer game and some stories he’s been thinking about. He was literally ready to do anything for me and even a slight suggestion from me sent him into immediate cooperation.

Juxtapose this with our first week back into our homeschool work.

I started out the week nervous about how much resistance I was going to see from the kids and jumped in with a drill sergeant like determination to whip them into shape and get things done. No playful interactions, just straight to business with a long list of things to do and heavy reasons why they were going to cooperate.  Theo disappeared off to read comic books every time I turned my back, and when I did manage to get him going at something, he worked at a snail’s pace, for example 30 minutes to brush his hair.  After he completed a bit of written work, my corrections were met with arguments and howls of agony. His frustration levels was high, and at some point he was so upset by the anticipation of who might or might not be in a class that he threw his water bottle down in a way I considered unsafe.  This incident, his eruption of frustration, became the problem.

The rough homeschool day may seem to be the situation that calls for discipline.  We’ve been taught that discipline involves a situation where things go wrong, then we are somehow supposed to make kids behave and get them to mind us.  Usually this involves the idea of teaching them through lecturing, time outs, removal of privileges.

But here’s the thing, from a developmental attachment perspective, it was my playfulness, flexibility, and responsiveness to my child’s state on our soccer outing that made for more effective discipline. My careful cultivation of closeness and situations my son could handle, and quick exit from those he could not, created an incident-free day. In doing so, I set my son up to succeed in his interactions, teaching him ways to handle the big moments of life and stepping in to support him when they were too much for him.

When we define discipline not as what to do when things have gone wrong, but how to teach our children to be safe, happy, and successful in their lives, we need to start thinking proactively and show our children how to get there.

To that end: homeschool today started with 15 minutes of roughhousing very first thing so I can wrestle him to the floor rather than wrestle with his behaviors.

The Seattle Neufeld Community, along with Attachment Parenting International’s Seattle chapter host Cindy Leavitt’s presentation Discipline that Doesn’t Divide this Saturday from 8:30a to 1:00p. Buy your tickets now!