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Rethinking Discipline
[35] General[2013-12-10 06:38:26]

Q: Discipline approach and how it changes as my children grows older
A: In general my approach is simply to first determine what behavior or outcome I would like to guide my children towards and do my best to guide them to that behavior or outcome. Because each child is different and responds to different approaches over time, my approaches adapts to their changes and my understanding of their needs and wants.

The first thing that came to my mind when the word “discipline” and “children” is put together is “punishment” because that’s the form of discipline I hear most about: the use of force, physical or otherwise, intended to alter a child’s behavior. I was immediately reminded of the many unpleasant punishment I personally received while growing up. Through many observations of failed and successful discipline attempts by my parents and others, I knew by the time my first child was born that 1) corporal punishment is completely unnecessary, 2) the most common form of discipline is through positive and negative reinforcement although there are actually many other approaches, and 3) above all, nothing matters if I do not have a good solid lasting relationship with my children.

In attempting to address this question, I ended up rewriting my post about how I came to my discipline approaches about half a dozen times and came up with many more definitions and examples of discipline. Eventually, it became clear to me that instead of a reactive form of “discipline” such as “punishment,” my approach is really more along the lines of “vision-sharing” or “vision-imparting” as I attempt to raise my children as disciples of Christ who will sharpen me just as I sharpen them (Matthew 28:19, Proverbs 27:17). In other words, for me, discipline begins with first asking the question “what do I want to impart to my child?” followed closely with “What is the best way to do so?”

When my older son was an infant, I actively discouraged him from gumming his fingers because I did not want him to build an unhygienic habit. Whenever I noticed him gumming his fingers, I would take his fingers out of his mouth and then physically preventing him from performing the undesirable behavior and/or distracted him (No pacifier because I did not want him to have a pacifier habit). As we understood better that his gumming behavior was likely teething behavior because his gums are uncomfortable as his teeth are coming out, our approaches changed to providing him other forms of relief such as giving him teething rings or gently rubbing his gum with xylitol teeth wipes. Sometimes when he cried anyway, I would proceed to hold him close to me and massage him (which is my way of conveying that I love him despite not letting him get what he wants). He liked being massaged so much that one of the first words he learned was the Indonesian word “pijit” (meaning “massage”). To this day, he still asks me to massage him for comfort.

He certainly has his share of being put in time out when he is intentionally being belligerent (e.g. intentionally throwing food to the floor, yelling and other tantrum behavior, etc.). Even then, I have several rules for myself when executing such discipline: 1) Always give warning – an opportunity to correct his own behavior (e.g. state what the consequence is if he don’t stop and count to 3), 2) Only state consequences I’m willing and able to carry out (e.g. don’t threaten to throw away his toys unless I’m willing to do so), 3) Prevention is better than cure – see if there’s a way to prevent the belligerent behavior from happening in the first place (e.g. teaching him to communicate and bargain to get what he wants) or at minimum make an effort to understand why he behaves a certain way and see if there are better ways to address the cause of certain behaviors (e.g. we found out that if we give him advance warning to stop playing, he is generally much more willing to cooperate). Above all, the point is not to “punish” him necessarily, but to deliver the message that certain behavior is unacceptable or has negative consequences. Thus, there were times when I stayed with him in “time out” because I felt he needed to know that I love him despite the fact that he’s suffering the consequences of his actions.

Nowadays, our challenges with him extends to his interaction in school (e.g. homework, class participation) and society in general (e.g. playground etiquette, acceptable public behavior). Although we still struggle with his impulse control (e.g. he tends to have disruptive impulses such as making sudden loud noises when excited or wanting to get attention) and newly discovered sibling rivalry, we are also seeing results of our vision imparting to him through his behavior and fictional stories that he sometimes tell during role play and storytelling. For example, the other day during a science fair, he found a plastic magnifying glass on the floor and, instead of keeping it for himself, asked me where the lost and found is so he can turn it in (I was very proud that he offered to do so all on his own).

Soapbox message: Long ago before I had children, someone warned me that when I have children of my own, they might argue with me. I replied that I fully expect my children to argue with me and would be sad if they don’t because I would be worried that they’re not thinking for themselves. For me, my children are not little people to command or bully around – they are a wonderful and better future who have been temporarily entrusted to the care of my wife and I. My job then is not so much to bend them to my will as it is to guide them to the One who can give them life to the fullest as well as assist them in reaching their fullest potential in life, whatever that might be. “Discipline” then becomes much less a form of punishment as it becomes more of a vision impartation – as I see their potential and empower them to reach their fullest potential. How do you see children and discipline?

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