Discipline as Gentle Guidance
The word discipline comes with a certain charge, it seems even before we are pregnant we are thinking of it. We’ve all seen those screaming children in the supermarket, and we all hold memories from our own childhood. And all these images are on our minds as we prepare to have our own children and start raising our family. We don’t have to wait till our baby is a certain age, or even born to learn and plan for them, to talk with them and discipline is the same! The more you have a plan and know which direction you want to focus in, then focus in on it, the better you will be at arriving at your future destination. The more we open up and learn how to communicate fully with your child in womb, during birth, after birth, throughout your child’s life, the less “discipline” will be an issue.
What is it? We want to set the record straight here and now, in case you haven’t yet figured it out: you will never be able to have full control over anybody but yourself, including your little one! I know it sounds obvious, but we still fight for control so much we loose a lot of energy in the process of trying to discipline. To have a loving, growing relationship with our children we must give up the old idea of discipline: that we are here to force them into making the choices and living the life that we deem important or good. Instead we see it as our job to embrace them, to love them and to gently guide them along their journey. Does this mean you can’t enforce anything? Of course not, but think of yourself as the team leader, you must set the regulations, but they’ll have to be good ones or your teammates will see right through them! How many times when we were growing up did we ask your parents “why?” And they replied, “because I said so!” Is it true? Probably, but is it helpful? Maybe it may get them to do what you want right then, but we want to always consider the long run. Gentle guidance allows us to teach in such a way that we help them look at the choices available, or brainstorm some new ones, and help them start to understand and see how good choices are made. This is what discipline, or gentle guidance is all about, empowering them in themselves and their ability to make choices. Life is always a choice and nothing but choices. And so this is the crux of what our discipline is about: how can I as a parent take this opportunity that is presenting itself right now to gently guide them through this situation in a way that teaches them and models for them the tools that will be helpful all their life. And as far as we’ve witnessed, this isn’t by hitting or by calling a time out, unless it’s for ourselves so we can stabilize our own turbulent emotions!
We’ve chosen Ari, a mother of two and an incredible teacher and owner of her own accredited, in-home preschool in Southern California. She is surrounded not only by her own children who are 9 and 13 now, but every day by dozens of preschoolers, and her work focuses on gentle guidance and the these top five crucial elements: respect, communication, making time, living by example and having fun! She says she uses these elements daily with her own children and her preschoolers and the rewards are incredible, because the children are incredible!
Click here to read the full discipline interview with Ari.
1. Respect. Aretha Franklin wrote about it, most of us have sang it with gusto at one point or another, but what does have to do with disciplining your children or welcoming your baby? Why do we need to respect our little ones? Because life is literally like a boomerang, and what we put out comes back to us! So, for your child to respect you, you must on this day respect them. And this starts in the womb! The little body growing in your womb holds such knowledge and has such an incredibly bright spirit, but right now, and right after birth, it’s communication is limited, but it definitely exists. Have you ever seen discipline without respect? It doesn't work. A lot of the past discipline has come out of fear, "you must do what I say, or else!" But this means for the long run you will be threatening your child on a daily basis, and that's not a fun discipline to follow through on. Respect their bodies, respect their spirits. They have preferences just like you and me, and so communicate with them, pay attention to their responses at all ages!
2. Communication. Wherever you are in the process, now is the time to start communicating, or gently guiding, your baby! Whether you’re trying to conceive or if your baby is in womb, or after birth the communication doors are open and all you have to do, is talk, visualize or send feelings to them. Remember after birth that they know what it feels like to be in your womb – it knows the truth of your feelings by the vibration that your body holds. Keep this in mind and do what you can to soothe, calm and love your baby and yourself while you’re pregnant. It sets the habit you want to have for a lifetime. And let your mate participate too, communication is for all of us! Bonding and loving your baby is particularly helpful if you are feeling afraid of birth. Try telling your baby how you feel and remind them, and yourself, that you are a team – and you’ll make it through as a team. After birth, it may look like you’re baby is a sleeping, pooping, crying ball of clay, but even at this early age they are communicating. They are using body language, their cries and their vocal skills to tell you what’s on their mind. Pay attention! Some may hold the popular attitude of “it’s healthy for a baby to cry, it develops their lungs!” But that’s not what our experience has shown. Sure we all may need to cry it out every once in a while, but doesn’t it feel better to have someone there gently assuring you that your needs are met, communicating to you: listening to you and telling you that you are loved? Your baby is just as much a full human being as you are! It’s just at a different stage of life. After your baby starts to grow and is exploring more and more of the world Ari says there are two important things in your communication: choice and this little thing called neurolinguistics. Lets start with choice, every day our life is full of choices, some of them we like and some we don’t, but our day is full of choice after choice. What’s important is that we don’t just tell our children “NO”, but that we gently guide them by giving them choices. For example, we may not be able to go out and play because it’s raining, but we can create a picnic in the living room or we can eat and then draw together. There will always be part of life we can’t control and parts that we can, and if we gently guide them through this from the get-go, they will feel they are an active participant in life, not just a victim! It is a true need of all human beings. The second thing that is really important in communication is how our brain works with neurolinguistics. She says discipline should be used with the science behind our brains to make it easier for all involved… so here’s how it works. For example, our child is reaching for something that’s going to burn them, most of us would quickly say, “Don’t touch!” And then be scared and frustrated as they continued to reach their hand toward that same direction. Upset that our discipline wasn't protecting our child. Hopefully, we’d catch their hand in time with a racing heart. But there’s another option! Instead of saying, “Don’t touch!” say “Hands off!” The brain works in such a way that in the first case it’s latching onto the word “touch” and so it keeps trying to touch. And when they are starting to explore the world, it seems there are so many opportunities to say “don’t…” But for every don’t there is an opposite that we can say: Hands off, gentle hands (instead of don’t hit), walking feet (instead of don’t run) and on and on. Begin to notice the words you are saying to see if you are reinforcing the behavior with your guidance that you don’t want or helping to create the behavior you do want.
3. Modeling behavior and living by example. As you gently guide your children with your communication tools, helping your child to create the behavior you want to see, it is helpful to start by modeling the behavior for them – the first couple of times you say hands off gently take their hand and move it back from whatever it is they are reaching out for. Modeling what you want to see whether it’s gently guiding them or it’s living by example is one of the most powerful things you can do for your children. Think of your child as an instant and long-term emulator, or mirror! They are reproducing the calm or the upset you feel inside, so the best way to create a loving, supportive relationship is to be that for them and be that for yourself. Self-care is crucial. If your spirit is not nourished and loved, you cannot give that to your child. If you do not feel safe to be you, you will not guide and allow your child to be them self. I’ve heard so many mothers tell me they have no time, but it’s up to you to make time, to create space for your own needs! You must set your priorities so you can give your child the best of you. Meditate, exercise and eat well. Create art that nourishes your soul, whether that’s food, painting or whatever it is you like to explore! You may not have hours on end, but every can make at least 5 minutes somewhere, every day to allow yourself to breathe and go inside yourself. A full you is the best gift you will ever give to your child, because it allows them to create and offer the world a full them! And when you make time to nourish and nurture yourself, you will nurture and nourish your child well, if you try to nourish and nurture from an empty well, you will only become irritated and angry. If you find yourself on this side of the fence too often, realize it’s because you are not first seeing to your own needs… it’s vital! That’s why if a plane is going down, you must first see to your own mask before you help anyone else! We do not want to discipline out of our frustration, we want to use gentle guidance out of our abundance, love and wisdom.
4. Making time! Making time for your children is so important, whether we work, or are a stay-at home mom, quality time can be lost in chores and to-do lists, cooking and bathing and everything else that needs doing. But we must create time just being with our children, to look into their eyes. Ari’s made a bedtime routine with her children. It started when her kids were babies, first with just Brooke, then when Grant was born they added him in. Ari and her kids would all cuddle up on her bed and she would take turns asking the kids how there day was and what was going on in their world. When Grant got old enough to participate she taught them how to take turns and really listen to each other. And she says that even now, at 11 and 13 they still are taking turns, hardly ever talking over one another, not fighting for attention, because they know they are a priority, they know she wants to hear about them. You will find great treasures in these moments if you make a habit of taking time out of your to-do’s and just to be with your children every day. And for an added bonus it will cut down on the behavior you have to discipline for!
5. Fun! Ari said she’s got first hand experience walking into a messy room and immediately going into discipline-mode and getting upset that everything has been pulled out and is now in the middle of the room. But what she reminds us is this: when we get upset and "discipline" it is because we do not like how it makes us feel. The dirty room is reflecting on us, now we feel we have to clean it, or we feel what if someone saw this mess, they’d see us as a bad mom. These feeling are what make us react and yell at our children to clean up their room, but guess what, there’s another option! Observe your breath and remember that we are grateful that our children are there to make messes! We are truly blessed and this too shall pass! Take time, if you can to ask them about the fun things they created, maybe they want to tell you all about the fort they built. Think of what it would be like in your own life if you were having a great time at work, laughing with someone, taking a moment to really enjoy life, and suddenly your boss comes and yells at you to get back to work… Our children are just like us, they have desires and hearts that like to laugh and have a good time. Then if you’ve asked them and they’ve shared about their good time, then remind them that we get to clean up and store the toys we have so we can play with them the next time, and ask them how we can make clean-up fun! They might have some ideas, and if none of them are quite what works, gently guide them along and suggest you could count or use a timer. Play a game, or make up a song while cleaning up about the fun you had. Whatever it is, whether it’s deciding what to buy at the grocery store, or the errands you have to get done, bring fun into it! This is one of the great adventures of being a parent, and you don’t want to force the fun out or your children, you want to bring their natural ability to laugh and experience joy into your lives together! Brainstorm together ideas to bring fun, always validate their creative ideas, even if they don’t quite work, and throw in your own ideas and share the experience!
Ari’s top five essentials of discipline and or gentle guidance are a keeper and a list that can change the world. If for one generation we all showed our children respect, communicated honestly, showed our children how to make wise choices through the decisions of life, had fun and really made time for the things that were most important: sharing love and laughter, can you imagine what our world would look like? What about if only your family did it, can you imagine what your own family would look like? There is another option! Thank you Ari, for sharing your years of experience and love with us. We stand with you and raise the bar on parenting, on loving, on discipline, on communication and on gentle guidance. We know there is a better way, and we embrace it!