A few weeks ago, I came to the end of my rope. I felt like I had tried every discipline technique under the sun and nothing was working. Why, whenever Max did something wrong did it always excalate into screaming, and tantrums. The more I disciplined, the more he acted out. It was a vicious cycle. One that always ended up with me feeling bad and Max feeling bad. I knew it was hurting him.
On good days he'd come up to me. "I'm choosing to be good Mom." Then his lip would pout out and he'd stare at the floor. "But sometimes I'm a bad boy." I always tried to reassure him, that he was always a good boy, just sometimes we make wrong decisions. But our actual discipline sessions said otherwise.
Me throwing him in timeout. Him banging on the door, screaming. Me screaming back that if he broke that door we'd never go to Disneyland again. My teeth were grinding. I was angry. I love my son and I've seen his sweet side, but why wouldn't he just shape up?
Time-outs worked great with Jane. Why did they send Max into a rage spiral? Why did some days feel like constant battles?
I reached out on an internet forum, begging for help. I got a lot of great responses and was led to a website by Dr. Laura Markham, that I highly recommend checking out. But I knew that I could not just adopt a new discipline strategy. I'd tried that before and I always flamed out miserably. I had to choose to make one change. Just one.
I made two actually.
Change #1 - I stopped viewing it as discipline, and instead saw it as a 'correction.' I'd always gone into my discipline interactions viewing it as a battle of wills. 'You will listen to me. You will do what I say. You will bend your will to mine.' I saw every act of disobedience as a threat. But just changing that one word in my head changed my whole approach.
This wasn't about me. And this wasn't about punishment. I was not going to punish anyone into being a better person. Boundaries are needed by everyone. But I set them and enforced them in love. 'I love you be we can not act this way.' This change in wording led to...
Change #2 - Begin every correction with a statement of love/empathy. This change had a two-fold effect. First, it forced me to calm down and see the good in my son. I could not do this when I was angry. So now, I try to begin every correction by getting on eye level with my kids, lovingly touching them (hug, hand on the shoulder, etc.), and making a statement of empathy. "I understand that it's hard to..." or, "I love you so much, but we can't..."
Max's response totally changes with this approach.
But it's not perfect. Sometimes, even when I'm loving, my kids don't want to have to do what's expected. Sometimes they still get angry and start throwing fits. And when this happens, I have to help them calm down. Correction can't take place when either party isn't calm. So, right now I have two strategies to help everyone calm down.
Calming Strategy #1 - Deep breaths. These usually work best with some guided imagining. I have my kids blow out birthday candles. Or pretend to be the spring wind waking up the flowers. Or we pretend we've swallowed a balloon and are blowing it up inside us. If that doesn't work...
Calming Strategy #2 - Timeout. There is a place for it, I feel. But only as a way for us to calm down. It does not do the correcting. It is not a consequence. It is just a way to protect the child and everyone else and get us to a place where we can talk.
When I started employing these changes and strategies, I noticed a real difference in the peace in my home. But it wasn't my kids who changed. It was me. I stopped going into a correction in fear, or anger, or pride. I stopped trying to struggle against a child who was not in a place to listen. And then I had to actually correct. This led to a revamp of the rules.
Rules, rules, rules. So many rules. Don't hit. Don't kick. Don't yell. Don't spit. Don't throw. Don't, don't, don't. No, no, no. Everything was couched in the negative. And there were so many to remember. And what was the consequence for each of them. Did it help anyone learn anything other than, "Step out of line and be punished?"
Gentle Hands. (feet, teeth, heads, etc)
Most things fall under these categories. When I couched our rules in these terms, it was easier for me to see that my consequences needed streamlining too. They needed to actually correct, not punish. Now, when the kids need a correction, I talk to them about getting their hands back to gently. About making up for what they did. Getting their words back to gentle, etc. The kids get to help me brainstorm this, if they're up for it.
Back to gentle hands. For Max, this works much better if I can find a soft blanket or silk and wrap it around his hands. "How can we get these hands back to gentle and soft like this blanket?" We have done all of the following and there are plenty more you can think of. Fold blankets, help pick up, do something nice for the person you hurt, give them a hug or kiss.
Back to gentle words. I usually make the child say something nice to or about the person they said something mean to. I'm also going to add asking for forgiveness, rather than saying, 'I'm sorry.' Sometimes a child refuses to do this. That is when I take them to their rooms. They can come back out and be with the family when they have something nice to say.
Back to gentle voices. Up until this last week, I didn't know what to do for this. But after praying, I was blessed with inspiration. We either sing a song or say a prayer. (Many times it is just me praying with the child on my lap) We pray to help our heart be happy again and let go of being angry. We sing songs about love and family.
My heart is the anchor of my home. If it is at peace, I am much more able to lead my children back to that place. This is what I have learned more than anything. I'm by no means perfect. Sometimes I still find myself getting angry, yelling. But not nearly so much. And I snap out of it much faster and get back on track.
But my slip ups all have a similarity. I have not been on top of my game. Meaning, I probably didn't start my day with prayer and meditation. I am probably distracted. I have allowed meaningless things in the world bother me.
It's hard work. Hard to stay centered and present. Hard to be able to separate my self-worth from the actions of my children. But it is worth it.
I know my strategy will have to change as they grow older, and some of the things I do here would not work with a 2 year old by any stretch of the imagination. But for once, I finally feel like I'm swimming rather than just barely staying afloat.
I did make one other fantastic change. Storytelling. But that deserves a blog post all it's own, which I will write soon!