In approximately a month, I will become a mother for the first time. As my tummy swells to the point of no return, it's not pondering the round-the-clock feeding and hourly diaper changes that scares me. Crying and sleep deprivation might be hard, but I'll tell you what really freaks me out when I think about it: the day my sweet bundle of baby love begins to develop a will of his or her own. Eventually, this kid is going to learn how to say "no" a hundred times a day, have tantrums in public, and generally test every single boundary Daddy and I have set. We don't want to be "pushover" parents and let our child run willy-nilly, but we don't want to be tyrants either. Is there a way to raise our child to be both free and responsible? How can we discipline our child without spanking, threats, or bribery?
Becky A. Bailey, renowned childhood education specialist, addresses these questions in her new book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation. First, Bailey asks parents to recognize that the old forms of discipline based on fear and punishment are not conducive to a happy, harmonious home. In fact, such outmoded forms of discipline can affect a child's self-esteem in a negative way that lasts a lifetime. Bailey explains that when it comes to learning how to behave in the world, punishing a child focuses attention on what a child has done wrong rather than how he or she can do it right. Parents must realize that children "misbehave" because they haven't learned the appropriate behavior. In order to teach unruly children, parents must adopt an attitude of what she calls "loving guidance."
Such awareness wasn't so prevalent when our parents were raising us, but times have undeniably changed. We cannot ignore the ways our own behavior is reflected in our children's; therefore, it is of the utmost importance that parents stay in control of their own emotions and actions. If we holler and throw a fit when our spouse doesn't do want we want, we can expect our child to display the same behavior when he or she is denied access to his or her own desires. In essence, our children are our mirrors -- their behavior reflects our own. "If you want your children to change, you must begin by becoming a wonderfully loving adult," Bailey writes. "You must rely on love, not fear, to motivate yourself and your children."
Oh, sure, easy to say, not so easy to implement. Trying to stop a tornado with a broom seems more realistic than staying calm in the face of a two-year-old holding his breath and turning blue because he can't have a piece of candy at the grocery store. Though our first impulse might be to yell, take away privileges,or even spank, Bailey suggests we must develop seven basic skills of discipline that teach our children values, such as integrity, respect and cooperation.
However, she points out that we cannot teach skills that we do not possess. The first step in raising disciplined children requires being disciplined ourselves, taking responsibility for our own anger
and frustration instead of blaming it on the child. "No one can make you angry without your permission," Bailey points out. When we claim and accept our feelings, we don't have to lose our composure -- we can stay calm, even when our child is misbehaving."
But how? Bailey asks parents to stop searching for that "magic pill" that keeps a child's behavior in check and commit to changing their own perceptions, one experience at a time. The fact is, it takes patience, practice, and persistence to develop positive communication with a child. If we can view each instance of misbehavior as an opportunity to teach, the appropriate behavior can be achieved by maintaining a positive intent. Bailey provides concrete exercises and suggestions to change a parent's attitude in this way, but the real work is up to the reader.
Easy to Love acknowledges that raising a child requires the very best of us. Bailey knows it's not easy, but relying on positive reinforcements rather than punishment has the ultimate reward: a healthy, balanced, responsible child. Her teachings ring true and have assuaged the fears of this mother-to-be. I only hope my husband and I remember to put them into practice when our two-year-old is turning blue in the grocery store.
Jessica Leigh Lebos
Read an Excerpt
From Willful to Willing
A wonderful woman who lived in a shoe
Had so many children,
And she knew exactly what to do.
She held them,
She rocked them,
She tucked them in bed,
"I love you, I love you"
Is what she said.
Have you ever thought, I have tried everything possible to get my child to get dressed (or do his homework, or clean his room) and then sadly said to yourself, I give up"? Have you ever punished your child and later felt guilty for having behaved in a way that you swore you never would? Have you ever promised yourself to exercise regularly, eat better, or spend more time with loved ones, but found that the promises you made to yourself are difficult to keep? Have you then given up, or felt guilty?
I wrote this book to help you permanently change your own behavior, because only by learning to discipline yourself will you be able to successfully guide your children's behavior. I will show why achieving self-control and self-discipline allows you to know exactly what to do in order to discipline your children.
If I asked you to teach a class in nuclear physics, could you do it? Probably not. Could you teach your child how to pole-vault? Again, probably not. You cannot teach what you do not know.
Yet we often demand that children acquire skills that we ourselves lack. We ask children to do as we say, not as we do. Parents yell, "Go to your room until you are in control of yourself." A mother grabs a toy that two preschoolers; are tussling over and says, "You know better than to grab toys from your friends. It's mine now!" Husbands and wivesbattle with each other, using attack skills such as name-calling and withdrawal. Then they demand that their children resolve conflicts calmly, by discussing them. Our own emotional intelligence is primitive at best, and whether we admit it or not, we pass our emotional clumsiness on to our children.
For most of us, being consistently in control of ourselves represents a major change. So this book is about change: It's about learning to change your own behavior, and your children's behavior, so that you can grow closer, embrace and resolve conflict, and enjoy life. Once you model self-control for your children, they will show better self-control than you have ever imagined they could achieve. Delightful surprises await you.
Once you model self-control for your children, they will show better self-control than you have ever imagined they could achieve.
Imagine telling your child one time to take a showerand him actually marching off to do it! Imagine promising yourself to either conquer your clutter, or to relax about itand then keeping your promise. This book will help you realize these possibilituies and many, many others.
Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline can help you become the person you want your child to emulate. It will take your self-discipline and child-rearing skills to new levels. You will learn how to move beyond policing your children with rules and consequences, and discover how to create a home in which healthy relationships flourish and your children voluntarily choose to cooperate.
Sounds impossible? The revised Mother Goose nursery rhyme at the start of this chapter contains all the needed ingredients. If you want your children to change, you must begin by becoming a wonderfully loving adult. You must focus on what you want to have happen instead of what you don't want. You must rely on love, not fear, to motivate yourself and your children. When you learn to love yourself, you will be ready to teach your children to love themselves and one another.
This is a radically different approach from the one summarized in the original rhyme, which goes like this:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children
She didn't know what to do.
She gave them some broth
Without any bread;
She whipped them all soundly
And put them to bed.
Have you ever manipulated your child with food like Mother Goose did? ("If you behave while I shop, I'll take you to McDonald's.") Have you ever, in desperation, spanked your child? Unsure of how to proceed, have you sent your child to his room, or put him in "time out"? How often have you felt like the tired "old woman" (or a tired old dad) after surviving a day with your children, fighting battle after battle? The house really can feel as cramped as a shoe with laces tied too tightly.
How would tomorrow feel if you did know what to do? When your children tormented one another, you would be able to teach them how to resolve their conflicts, rather than resorting to playing "bad cop." When your children refused to clean up, you would know how to help them move past resistance and toward cooperation, rather than turning to nagging, punishment, or doing the task yourself. When your children lost control, you would know how to help them calm down and reorganize themselves, rather than outshouting them. Imagine knowing exactly what to do!
Times Have Changed and So Must We
When it comes to describing our social situation, "Times have changed" is an understatement. There have been many shifts in our society, yet none so profound as the shift from roles to relationships. Building steam in the late fifties, society began to enter bold new territory. Collectively, we decided that the roles of the past were too limiting. The roles of husband and wife had been explicitly defined. The role of child (to be seen and not heard) and the role of parent (as boss) had been clearly articulated. Relationships were...