Mention the word “discipline” in the context of dealing with a child, and what usually comes to mind? Typically, one may have a mental image of a parent or teacher with a fierce look on his/her face, giving a stern lecture or command, with maybe a belt or wooden stick or some spanking implement in hand for good measure.
Now, imagine that you’re a child: how does that sight make you feel? Scared, right? Or maybe even resentful or rebellious. Either way, it’s definitely not very encouraging. But that’s how discipline was traditionally done, right? And we turned out fine, right? Moooore or less fine—right?
But think about this:
“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?”
This is one of the most popular quotes on Positive Discipline, and it makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s always better when children behave because they actually want to—not because they were forced to.
I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to attend a workshop on positive discipline a few weeks ago, and it was such a thought-provoking experience. It was so refreshing to realize that yes, discipline does not have to be a painful experience for kids, that correction should not necessarily mean punishment, that you can say “no” and still be kind, and most importantly, that a lot of misbehavior can be prevented in the first place if you build the right environment for good behavior.
In essence, positive discipline is anchored on building a loving, respectful relationship with your children, one that gives them a deep sense belonging and allows them to thrive and grow as capable, responsible individuals.
One of the quotes that I learned during the workshop is this:
“A misbehaving child is a discouraged child.”
This really struck me because lots of times, my two-year old twins act out because they’re simply craving for more attention from us—they feel the need for more attention and are discouraged that they’re not getting it. As I learned in the workshop, we are all social beings and we always need to feel a connection—children most especially. This connection is a basic foundation of positive discipline because, let’s face it, if your child doesn’t even like you very much, why would she/he obey you?
I’m not saying that I’ve got it all figured out, of course. It’s a learning process, and we have to be in it for the long haul. Right now, I’m still not confident of my grasp of what positive discipline is and how I should be applying it to my twins. Positive discipline is so much different—and harder!—from the usual “Just do as I say because I said so and do it now!” style that I find myself doing many times. In spite of my efforts, it feels like I’m still losing my patience with the twins lots of times, resulting in not so positive moments for all of us. I try to be patient, and positive, and sometimes, well, it doesn’t work.
Except of course, sometimes, lots of times actually, it does work, and it’s beautiful.
There are lots of positive discipline tools and the one-day workshop of course couldn’t cover all of them, but some of the most useful ones for me are (and shout-out to workshop resource person Clarice, please tell me if I’m applying these tools incorrectly!):
Routine is king.
When there’s a set routine in doing things, children feel secure that they know what’s going to happen next, and are less likely to offer resistance. When they do offer resistance, you refer them back to the routine.
Lately, during diaper change time, Dahon would always insist on wearing red diapers. As in insist. Teetering on the edge of a tantrum insist. We don’t have a lot of red in our limited cloth diaper stash, so of course at some point the red ones would all end up in the wash. Instead of just imposing and saying, “no you can’t wear red diapers, wear this instead!” we’d let her pick another color, or hold up two diapers and ask her to choose which one she’d like. Her attention would instantly be diverted from her impending tantrum to deliberating on our question, and she’d pick a diaper without further complaint.
Curiosity Questions: Asking versus telling.
I admit, I say things like “iligpit niyo na yung toys niyo, iligpit niyo na!” (“Put away your toys, put them away now!”) all the time, but when the twins refuse to obey, I’d change tactic and frame it as a question instead, something like: “Your toys are on the floor. Where do we put our toys?” And they’d think about it and then point to the shelves, and then go put the toys away. There are times when they’d just flat out ignore me and I’d simply have no energy to go about it properly, though. Also, when they’re with the yaya, she’d just be the one to pick up the toys. Obviously we still have to work on the consistency.
Be kind and firm.
I find this important when the twins are testing boundaries or are trying to break established rules. They know that brushing their teeth is not negotiable, so even if they don’t want to brush, I try to firmly but kindly make them understand that brushing will happen no matter what. I say try, because, well, my patience runs out sometimes, and then there’d be more of the firm and less of the kind! Yikes.
Follow through: If you say it, mean it; if you mean it, do it.
This is sort of connected to “Be kind and firm.” For example, the twins love playing with split peas. We keep a small bag’s worth of split peas in a container and when the twins want to play, we’d spread a table cloth on the floor, bring out some plastic spoons and cups, and let the twins have fun scooping up the peas and pouring them out. However, for my own sanity (and so we won’t have to buy split peas every week), I’ve established a rule that the peas shouldn’t be scattered on the floor but just stay within the table cloth or else the peas will be taken away. And I do take them away. So they behave. And negotiate, ha ha, when some peas get scattered and I make a move to pack everything away.
This is technically not part of positive discipline tools, but I’m mentioning it here because I think it’s part of being respectful of our children as individuals and not just as little people to be ordered around. When the twins are digging their heels in about something, I take a deep breath, remember to be firm and kind, and wait. I wait while they play a couple of minutes more in the bath. I wait while they struggle to do something by themselves, like open the door or put the lid back on something. I wait while they go pick up a particular toy because they just had to do that before they’re ready to go downstairs. Things seemingly take a little longer, but I know that they’d take even longer if I swoop in just to get things over with. I have done that, I still do that when I lose patience, and the results are just tears and much flailing about so, yes, I’m working on it.
All in all, the positive discipline workshop gave me a lot to think about and work on. The way it was conducted was also quite helpful.
- Small group size. We were 10 participants in the class, just the right size for healthy interaction. I learned a lot not only from the resource person but also from my fellow participants.
- Lots of role-playing. Role-playing is a little uncomfortable for shy introverts like me, but they were very helpful because I was really able to put myself in the situation. I was reacting and interacting in real time, with results that were more genuine than if we were just sitting there discussing the hypothetical situation.
- One full day. A two or three hour lecture would just be covering the basics, and two days or more would be unrealistic for busy parents, but one day is doable and allows for more extensive learning and opportunities for interaction.
The workshop was a trial run offered by Clarice Anne Aviñante. The first official run of the workshop is scheduled for tomorrow, March 14, so I think the slots are probably full by now, but you can head over to the Positive Parenting Philippines Facebook page for updates on future workshops or simply tips and reminders on positive parenting.