When I think about discipline in the context of a grown-up, I think of an athlete, a writer, an actor or anyone who relies on their strongly developed skills to achieve their goals.
Discipline in the realm of kid-dom, we usually think of punishment. When we "discipline" our children it usually means there's a privilege lost or a time out involved. But in our house, discipline encompasses so much more. Like an athlete training for a game or a meet, we train our children for life (Proverbs 22:6).
If you've ever heard Randy and/or me talk about disciplining our children, then you can probably quote the following statement from memory because we will say it until Jesus comes: Discipline is easy for our children. It's difficult for us as parents.
That may seem odd at first because it feels like kids have such a hard time falling in line with what you're telling them to do. But the truth is, all they have to do is what I tell them. The hard part is for me to actually follow through on what I tell them to do and what will happen if they don't. They're just looking for the chink in my armor.
How many times have you heard a parent in public tell their child, "If you do that one more time you're going to get a time out. (Pause, child does it again) Caitlin, I'm serious. Do not do that again. You're going to get a time out (child does it again.)" And this goes on and on.
Ephesians 6:1 says, "Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." This verse literally means for children to blindly obey their parents. Utter submission. . .as we are to obey Christ, by the way, seeing as how we're his children and all.
A great bit of advice that I got as a young mom was that learning and discipline happens outside of a crisis or a meltdown. We'd love it if the conversation with our 3-year-old went like this:
Child: (On the floor thrashing, wailing, throwing a fit.)
Mom: Sweetie, Mommy needs you to stand up and be a big girl right now and stop acting like this.
Child: (Jumps up, stands up straight, stops crying) What was I thinking? I do apologize, Mother. I'm so sorry for my horrid behavior. I will now go to my room and contemplate my actions and how they have adversely affected your day.
That would actually be kinda creepy. I knew that when my child was having a meltdown, they were not thinking logically or being at all reasonable. They're brains were fixated on one thing- Me! Me! Me! Mine!
So here's one of our tricks that worked for us.
One of those little things that I just could not tolerate was when one of my children did not come or ran away when I called them. It was defiance all the way. So I made up a game to play that would emphasize the importance of coming when I called.
I would sit in the middle of my living room with a little container of mini M&M's and play "Reverse Hide and Seek."
Me: Rachel, we're going to play a game! Mommy is going to sit here while you go hide somewhere. When I call your name, you say "yes ma'am!" and come to me as fast as you can! If you get here fast, then I'll give you an M&M. But if you don't come, or I have to say your name more than once, you won't get an M&M. Got it? (*See the blog post about rules and expectations.) Ready?
Rachel would run off and hide, squealing with glee. She would hide and I would call her name. She would yell "yes ma'am!" and come tearing into the living room and get her prize. She would also test me on the consequences of not coming when I called. No M&M. That was for the birds, so it didn't happen very often.
After playing a few times we'd talk about the importance of obeying Mommy and Daddy. I'd have my Bible handy and we'd quote Ephesians 6:1, the 2-3 year-old version- "Rachel, obey Mommy and Daddy. This is right!"
This was just a fun way to reinforce good behavior. Rachel had a chance to be successful, and at that age it's all about those small victories. When Daddy got home, we'd relive the whole thing and he would get so excited. We'd even show a demonstration. Rachel wanted so desperately to please us. . .still does.
When it came time to test this in a "real world" situation, we would praise the obedience and give consequences for the disobedience (e.g. hellfire would rain down and the wrath of Mommy was blinding). We went over the verse, "Rachel obey Mommy and Daddy. This is right! Ephesians 6:1" (Be sure to say the name and address of the verse, to reinforce that it's from the Bible and God is saying it, not just Mommy and Daddy.)
This game came in real handy when we'd go to McDonald's to eat and play. Before we even got out of the car, we went over the rules (expectations).
Me: When we get into McDonald's we're going to get our food. We are going to sit down and eat our food and after that you can go and play. You are going to put your shoes in a cubby before you play. When Mommy calls your name, you're going to say "yes ma'am" and come to me as soon as you can. When I say it's time to go, there will be no whining or complaining. You will say "yes ma'am" and get your shoes on quickly. Otherwise, we won't come back for a while. Got it?
Kids: Got it!
And usually I would make them repeat it because inevitably somebody was watching a bird or thinking about swords during orientation.
Warning: If all goes well in McDonald's, instead of getting to read that book you brought, you may be spending your time explaining to the other moms how you got your kids to come so quick when you called their name.
I would also give them a countdown (again with the expectations, e.g."You have fifteen minutes!"). Don't debate the time. They'll start to push your buttons. If this happens, leave immediately. This will probably result in a meltdown, but do not lose your cool. You told them what to expect, now follow through on your promise.
Find those opportunities to teach discipline in a really calm environment. It can happen during playtime, mealtime, story time, any time. It creates expectations and kids find such safety and peace when they know what to expect. Then when it comes time to give consequences, and we've had plenty of those, you will have already set a precedent.
But know this- none of this works if you don't stick to what you say. If you tell them what the consequences are, do not flake out or be manipulated. My son will be an attorney when he grows up, I know it. He's the king of how-can-I-get-out-of-this. You must be firm and resolved. It's so tough and will break your heart, but you are saving their little lives.
My kids still say "yes ma'am" when I call their name and it still fills my heart with pride and joy.
And I will sometimes still give them a mini M&M.
What creative ways or games have you found to practice good behavior outside of a meltdown?