I wrote this all down back in 2009 when we “only” had five kiddos. I had many people ask me “How do you do it?!” in reference to mothering and parenting. This is some of the how. Even though I wrote this a few years ago and we have seven kids now, this information is still relevant. We still use these techniques. Hope some of this is helpful!
We currently have five children and are expecting the sixth. They are ten, eight, six, four, and two. So I am mostly talking about younger kids. Seven years ago my husband and I totally overhauled our parenting style from a very punitive to a positive style. We have spent much time reading about parenting and talking to each other and other parents we respect about the way we want to do things. We are still a work in progress, very much so. I have some very special mentor mothers to thank for much of what we do today to discipline our children. Thank you Joanne and Lisa most especially.
- Have a vision for your family and children. I encourage you to set your standards very high but not beat yourself up when you don’t reach them. I really don’t expect us to obtain the perfection of our vision but we will certainly be so much better for trying. Don’t practice “accidental” parenting. You can collect many tools (i.e. tips) but if you don’t know what you are building you won’t know which ones to use or when to use them.
Our vision for our family is to have a peaceful home in which we all take care of, are kind, and respectful to each other. A family where we always try do what is right because it is the right thing to do, regardless of whom is around. Of course this includes the parents too. 🙂 Share your vision with your children often in little ways throughout the day. This will help to keep you on track too. (This can really be the hardest part.) For example: One morning I made muffins. As we all sat down one of my children wanted to “call” the one she wanted. In our family we don’t “call” things. She asked me why I had made this rule. I told her, “Because it is selfishness. I want a family where, when we sit down to breakfast you will turn to your brother and ask ‘Ethan, which one would you like?’ and then he will do the same for you.” To my surprise, her brother turned to her and did just that! I thought they would roll their eyes at me because it was pretty idealistic. 🙂
Once you have established a vision it will be easier to choose which tools you will use. Throw out the ones that don’t help and may actually destroy what you are trying to build. Your definition of what “works” may also change. Though one tool may yield immediate results, its long term effects may be undesirable. For us, this meant throwing out hitting of any kind, yelling, all punishments and most rewards. (Pretty much the whole tool box) We do still discipline. Discipline does not equal punishment. Ultimately, I want to raise people who will choose what is right from an internal motivation. Rewards can foster a “What’s in it for me?” attitude. They can also put you in the position of wondering what to do when the child has decided the reward is not worth it. In the same way, punishments can lose their scare factor and sometimes they just don’t make sense. Most importantly, these are both external motivations and don’t foster an internal motivation for making good choices. Hitting and yelling are neither respectful nor kind and in no way foster peace in the home. Neither do they foster peace in the soul of either party. (We are STILL working on the yelling.) So what *do* we do?
- We try to let natural consequences follow whenever possible. For example, if a child won’t control his/her body (i.e. he is hitting, running off) Mom will have to help you. This may mean being removed from the situation or sitting on mom’s lap etc….I try to always explain why I am doing what I am doing, even to very young children. When I say being removed from the situation it may mean leaving a play date five minutes after arriving, leaving a whole cart full of groceries, etc.
We had one child who was almost never flushing. Yuck! The consequence was to clean the toilet every time I walked in on an un-flushed toilet. Very rarely do I now walk in on an un-flushed toilet. 🙂
Also, I often ask the offender what they think would be fair in a given situation. They are often much harder on themselves than I would be. For hurting another (including with words), the family rule is that the offender do an act of service for the one they hurt as well as an apology. This can be getting a glass of water or making a bed, etc. We did this because we found the apologies had become much less than heartfelt and very forced and it is so beneficial to both parties.
- Whining – I tell my children “You are whining. I can’t hear whining.” Then I help them bring their voice down by saying “Mom” (this is usually the first word whined) over and over in a normal tone until they bring down their voice to a normal tone to match.
- Fights – If it is a small disagreement I ask them if they tried handling it with words and often give them an idea of words that could help like, “May I please have my chair back?” instead of shouting “MOVE!”
For larger fights I don’t ask what is going on. It almost never matters who started it or what happened. I start by asking each child “Are you doing what is right?” They usually try to launch into their side of the story but I will only hear a “yes” or “no”. It is almost always “no” from both parties. I then ask them each “How can you do what is right?” This gets them to think about how to solve it themselves and what part they own in the fight instead of how awful their sibling is. Ownership is huge in this family, again, including for parents.
- For very young children that refuse to do something I ask “Mommy do or Baby do?” This makes it their choice. My help is not doing it for them but hand over hand helping them.
- For rude answers or demands I say “Try again.” This gives them a chance to rephrase. I often will give them an example of an appropriate way to say what they mean.
- On our way to special events or restaurants we go over the behavior expected of them. I always ask them to tell me how they should behave so I know they’ve got it. It is only fair to them to know what is expected of them.
- Try to not assume negative intent. Messes are usually the result of curiosity or boredom not a devious two-year-old’s plot to ruin the last three hours spent cleaning. 🙂 This one is HUGE. I honestly believe people are born good. All very little people want are their basic needs. Not placing adult motivations like manipulation and spite on babies and toddlers makes mothering so much easier!
- Notice the good in your child. Do it often and out loud in front of them and others, especially for those “challenging” children. This helps you too to be more gentle and loving in those rough moments.
- Practice “Get off your butt” parenting. Be proactive and *thoughtful* with words and actions. Would you want someone to treat you the way you are treating your child?
- Everyone will choose different tools but two that will work for every child are love and respect.
- My favorite parenting saying of all time is:
“Good parenting is that which leaves both parent and child’s dignity intact.”