Part 5 on Parenting Principles
Shortly after Ethan was born a couple from the church we were attending invited us over to their home for lunch. The purpose was to sit around and talk parenting. They were significantly further down the road than we were. We did lunch a good handful of times and it was really helpful for Amy and I.
One of the things that we talked about was disciplining children. At this point, you may think I'm going to write about what kind of discipline that they suggested. I'm not. That is something that you need to work through on your own. Honestly, I don't remember if they even suggested a particular type of disciplinary style to us or not. What I do remember is that they encouraged us to be consistent in whatever we did.
Over the years I've learned that consistency in parenting, particularly relating to discipline, is one principle that is easier talked about than done. So, how do you practice consistency?
First, realize that whatever punishment you mete out to the child entrusted to you is your punishment as well. What do I mean? There are consequences to decisions that parents make and often we don't think about those consequences until after the fact. For instance, if you ground a child for a week, you're grounded too. This often means that a grounding usually only lasts as long as it's convenient for the parent. As a result, Amy and I found that identifying things of value and withholding them were far more effective measures, because they allowed us to be consistent.
Second, let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” Something that we did for a period of time was what I call the “counting game.” We would ask Ethan to do something and then start counting. Guess what? He never did anything on “1.” He was always pressure prompted, so to speak. After a while, especially after Libby was born, we decided to simply have the expectation that they would do something when we asked. This helped them learn to respect other people, not just mom and dad. It also brought the tension level down in our home. We would come alongside in the moment and help them accomplish what we asked. As they got older, it was just part of them to respond or to say, “I am in the middle of something. I will do it when I'm done.“
Third, make sure the punishment fits the crime. It is very difficult to be consistent if you're all over the map in your discipline. You want to be sure that you don't go over board on small things and have no place to go for big things.
Fourth, figure out what hills you're going to fight for. Everything doesn't need to be a struggle to dominance. Clearly identify your family priorities. For instance, we have focused most of our discipline in the areas of gratitude, relational connection, truth telling, and respect. As a result, there are a lot of other things we have let slide. We will talk about other stuff and raise issues with the kids as we see them, but if they aren't in one of those key areas we rarely “discipline” for what we've identified are small issues.
Finally, we have learned to try and not practice discipline when we are angry. Anger gives way to over punishment and lack of grace. There are many times when I have had to remove myself for a period of time to collect myself. It is nearly impossible to be consistent when you're mad. There is nothing wrong with letting some time pass and circling back for the conversation. Everything does not need to be done in the moment.
Consistency is crucial. It creates an environment where everyone knows where they stand. If we are inconsistent then the environment that kids find themselves in will be unstable. This instability leads to more difficulties in the long run.
Consistency isn't just about discipline. We must be consistent in praise and encouragement too. Parents have the unique role of speaking life and love into the children entrusted to them. Do not lose sight of this! There is nothing better than holding your son or daughter close and whispering words love and affirmation to them. You can actually feel their whole body relax and even when they're teens you can feel their head nestle just a bit closer.
I have written elsewhere about the importance of grace, truth, and time in our development of people. When we consistently speak and apply grace, truth, and time to the children entrusted to us we give them the best chances of growing into kind, loving, and gracious adults.