The other day I was putting baby down for a nap while my older two boys played quietly downstairs. See, right there I should have known something was up because those two boys rarely ‘play’ quietly. Once baby was finally asleep, I went downstairs to find they boys had raided the art supply closet resulting in a mess of epic proportions. I was understandably upset. In fact I was angry. I had planned to take advantage of baby napping and get a few things done. Instead I would have to spend a great deal of time and energy cleaning up the art mess. Additionally some of the materials they used were quite expensive and I was upset at them for being wasteful. My reaction was not one of my better parenting moments. I yelled at them and told them that I was angry about what they did. I also harshly told them that they needed to clean it up “right now!”. Unfortunately I knew they would need my help cleaning up to avoid it turning into an even bigger mess. Sigh…not at all what I wanted to do at that time.
However as we cleaned it together, my emotions began to soften. I realized what I had deemed a ‘mess’ and ‘wasteful’, they considered a creative, exciting, enjoyable experience. And therein lied the problem; our two opposing perceptions of the situation. As I thought about it more, I realized the biggest source of conflict for me was that they did not communicate their idea with me. Had they done so I would have been perfectly okay with them using the art materials, but perhaps would have placed some boundaries around the activity such as keeping it the table or limiting the amount of materials they used. Once I identified the main issue, I could take action….which is different than a reaction. I could explain to them the importance of communicating their ideas with me so we can develop a plan together. By doing so maintaining and strengthening our relationship remains at the forefront of our interactions. The hopeful outcome is that they understand communication is important and know that I will listen to as well as respond to their ideas respectfully. This is likely to reciprocal build trust and honesty between us which are essential aspects of healthy attachment. It is what Attachment Parenting International (API) refers to as Positive Discipline.
Rather than punish, API encourages parents to approach discipline in a positive manner that “helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others” (API, 2008). This takes time, creativity, patience, energy, empathy, and the underlying belief that a child is worthy of the same respect granted to adults. It is easy to fall into the “I’m big, your little thus you do what I say” mode as a parent. But ultimately, that approach may not be effective in fostering the skills we desire for our children such as problem-solving, respect, assertiveness, or demonstrating integrity in relationships. If we accept challenging behavior as an opportunity to teach, it drastically changes how we respond. It does not mean we are permissive as parents, but that we are parenting consciously. Sometimes positive discipline is incorrectly assumed to mean always saying ‘yes’ to your child or never providing a consequence. That is simply not true. API recognizes a parent’s role in gently and lovingly guiding their child’s behavior to ultimately help him/her develop self-control and self-discipline.
I am the first to admit that using this approach to discpline can be exhausting! I don’t always get it right…in fact I often blow it! But the occassions that I do approach discpline in a gentle, loving way I feel so much better about than the times I yell, threaten, or scold. For most of us utilizing positive discipline takes practice. It takes deep reflection of our own childhood experiences and reflecting upon current struggles we have with our children. While it may seem easier to just simply adopt the a heavy-handed “I’m big, your little thus you do what I say”approach, the heart of attachment parenting is to develop a strong parent-child connection and API believes this is best achieved with discipline that is empathetic, loving and respectful.