Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shifting Gears:

From Discipline to Self-Discipline

I had an interesting conversation with my husband today. He remarked that my parenting is changing in an interesting way. I said I hadn't noticed. In truth, maybe I have.

When I first became a parent, a trusted older friend who had already raised her children gave me a book by T. Berry Brazelton called Touchpoints. I loved the book's approach to varying child temperaments and its description of developmental stages. But what I took special pains to implement was Brazelton's approach to child discipline. The goal of discipline, as I understood his explanation, was to lead a child to self-discipline. That is to say, to give a child tools to operate successfully in the world and to own his or her own decision-making in a conscious way.

When I was growing up (sorry, Mom and Dad) the only goals of discipline that I could discern were maintaining order and showing who was in charge.

I will admit, there was a learning curve for me. As a young mother I lost my cool more than once. There were times that I had to stop myself from reacting to a situation or an undesirable behavior just to show I was still the boss. But, I have learned to be more detached and to understand my children's choices as exactly that -- their choices.

Fast forward to today's conversation. My husband observed that I have been giving my oldest child a "longer leash" when it comes to his temper. He has been easily frustrated lately, and sometimes it seems that his emotions are bubbling just beneath the surface, ready to burst out at a moment's notice.

Experience tells me that heightened emotions are par for the course during the first part of the school year. Schedules are changing and so are relationships. With so much up in the air in my children's lives, it's no wonder that they choose home as their safe place to let their emotions fly.

But in a way, I can see my husband's point. I have been shifting gears on discipline with our oldest. Maybe I'm waiting for him to find his feet on his own. Maybe I'm hoping that the ever-elusive self-discipline will kick in. Maybe I understand that I can't muscle him into a place where he has full emotional control at all times.

I'm not even in that place yet.

I explained as much to my husband. And he gave me a raised-eyebrow look of appreciation. "You may be right," he admitted. "Let's just wait and be supportive."

So now we wait and help and express our confidence in our son. I'm hoping this year will be an important one for him -- a time he'll look back at and recognize that his parents started giving him more responsibility and more credit for making his own choices.

I suppose we'll see if this was the right time to shift gears.

- Midwest Mom


  1. I think parenting and discipline in particular is always a work in progress. Discipline needs to evolve to fit the child, where they're at, what's going on in their lives. I commend you for seeing that and doing your best to honor that. It's definitely not a one size or one time period, fits all proposition.

  2. I agree with you. When I think about my 3, they're all at such different stages. But it feels like, with my first, we're at some sort of threshold. I'd like our relationship to evolve as he grows. It will be fun to see how things develop over this next year.

  3. I think my parenting changes with each of my children based on the situation and the guideline being 'they must learn to problem solve on their own some day.' I admit the last part comes in more frequently when I'm exhausted and just let them have their fits. I'm not going to Mommie Hell for that right?! ;)

  4. There always comes a point when observing is the best tool. If you sense, and YOU will know, that he cannot get a handle on his emotions you can step in gently to assist in a supportive way. You and your husband are so in sync here, it's cool! You need to be partners on the same page - it makes child rearing SO much easier! Hugs,

  5. Our pastor says that parenting is 3 stages: Boss, Coach, Buddy. You don't become buddies until they're fully independent of you. You become a coach when they're pre-teens. And there's a long transition from one stage to the next. Wise advice and it sounds like you're becoming a good coach!

  6. I have a teen who is extremely defiant and angry most of the time. My daughter coming near teen-hood seems to be going the same route. After buying The Total Transformation, I'm recognizing some of my ineffective parenting styles and making just small changes making them responsible for the consequences of their behavior and I have seen a big difference in my teens in just a short period of time (2 weeks). We still have a long way to go, but I feel good about the future for the first time in a long time.

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  8. I so want to be like you. You are the kind of disciplinarian I hope to be someday... you know, someday when I don't have a completely insane toddler. It is often difficult to stand back and keep my cool but I'm working on it.


  9. @Blarney

    You're definitely not going to Mommy Hell. We honor you for your honesty. [bows head in respect]

    (Welcome to the blog, by the way.)

    I hear ya. It's nice to feel like a team. In truth, though, he keeps me honest. That's why we had the conversation in the first place!

    What a great way to think about parenting. Thanks for that. (I've always wanted to coach.) ;)

    Good for you for recognizing a problem and finding solutions that work for your family. And welcome. It's good to see you here. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

    Oh, come on. The toddler years aren't *that* bad, are they?

    (Keep in mind I had my mind swiped by the Men In Black as soon as mine were potty trained.) ;)

    Like I said, I've had moments I'd rather not remember. You know the ones where you are digging in your heels just as hard as your 2 year old is? Yep.

    ... can't remember em. Not at all.


    - Julia


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