I wrote this to a blog friend awhile back and she reposted it on her blog recently, saying the thoughts it contained were useful. Maybe it will help others, too.
I agree with the commenters above although I think the Shepherding book is too impressed with spanking as a disciplinary tool and I would skip over those parts, especially where he’s talking about spanking babies. I don’t think parents should ever do that.
I think you already know the answer in your heart, since you have wisely disparaged the mental checklist or one-size-fits-all approach. I know they are incredibly appealing. I remember feeling the exact same way when my older children were toddlers. There’s a certain amount of chaos and naughtiness that goes on at those young ages and you wish there was a silver bullet to make them always behave the way they do in their best moments.
I remember being pointed to “How to Really Love Your Child” (Ross Campbell) as a good book on discipline. Taking it home and reading it, I could not see anything helpful in it. I wanted a “But what do you do when…” set of directions. A collection of silver bullets.
Years later I was asked to speak to a church group on Loving Your Children, and I wondered how best to collect my thoughts on that so I reread that book. This time, since my children were grown up or nearly so, I saw the book in a new light. His book distilled the essence of good parenting, and in my opinion, the heart of Christian parenting. It’s basically what I would say if someone asked for the most important things I could tell them about parenting.
First comes relationship. All your childrearing happens within the framework of your home’s atmosphere and your relationship with your children and husband. So smile at your children when they toddle up to you, make eye contact with them, touch them gently on the shoulder while you’re telling them to pick up the blocks. These things build a warm cooperative family environment.
Instead of thinking in terms of “that deserves a punishment,” think about the behavior as a sign that the children need to be equipped and taught to make a better decision. If they are whining, show them a better tone of voice. If they are hitting, show them how to negotiate for what they want or take turns.
And then there are the times when the instruction just needs to be enforced calmly, without rancor. You walk in your authority. Say your child doesn’t want to leave the nursery when it’s time to go home from church. You tell her it’s time to go and she acts like she didn’t hear you. You did the whole 5 minute notice thing like a good parent and still she won’t leave. Well then, you pick her up and leave. You don’t need to threaten, you don’t need to make a scene, you don’t need to give her a mini-lecture. You just be a parent and do what needs to be done. (She’s probably a little strung out from being in a small box of a room with 6 children for an hour and a half. Wouldn’t you be?)
If the naughtiness is at a particularly high level, think about that behavior as a sign. What’s it a sign of? Yes, yes, I know all about sin natures and such. But what’s the behavior a sign of? We SIN because our bent is to answer a basic need the wrong way. That’s always our tendency. So what’s the behavior a wrong answer to? Is the child hungry? Is he tired? Is he over-stimulated? Is he feeling misunderstood or overlooked? Have you been dragging the kids from pillar to post on errands and they really need to get home and back into their own routine and their own environment?
The fact that we are so much older and wiser than our children means we need to put our greater life experience to work on their behalf. If they could simply tell you, “Don’t listen to me, I know I’m being irrational about this, I’m totally exhausted and not thinking straight” like a girlfriend would, things would be different. You have to piece that together from the information you can pick up. Of course if your girlfriend said that to you, you wouldn’t “not listen to her.” You’d calm her down, encourage her to get some sleep, administer chocolate, whatever. You’d “not listen to her” in terms of not reacting to the drama, but you’d continue to be her friend and try and help her. Same with your kids. They can’t tell that they are overly hungry or overly tired. They’re just striking out in their misery. We have to see that, and fasttrack the root solution–get their blood sugar back up, or get them down for the badly-needed nap, or get them home to their own environment. Do it gently and mercifully, not angrily and punitively. They’re just kids.)
In other situations, the parental thing to do is set a boundary and then unemotionally enforce it. “I know you don’t like your carseat, honey. Up you go. I know you hate it. Let’s get that buckle fastened. Ok. Here’s your juice.” [Child is feeling uncooperative and inconsolable and bats it away.] “Oh–you don’t want your juice? You can tell me with your words. I’ll put it away.” [Matter-of-factly put the juice cup away. You don’t need to be pulled into the drama here. These are just feelings being handled immaturely. Toddlers are, by definition, immature. Now, as you get yourself settled in the car, change the subject, help your child not dwell on what’s not negotiable.] “Who will we see at the store? Will we see Mr. Steven there?”
A squall about getting into a dreaded carseat doesn’t need to be punished. They outgrow that kind of stuff. You just handle it. Think about all the stuff you hate to do…God doesn’t punish us for hating to face that mountain of laundry. But by our ages, we have strategies for getting through it. Young children don’t have strategies yet.
So there’s some thoughts for you.