Monday, February 24, 2014

i want to stop punishing my children. (part 1 in a series)

Becoming a parent changes you in some of the most profound ways. What I thought I knew about myself has been questioned, reevaluated, and, in some ways, completely changed by having children. 

And being a parent, by the way, is really hard! Just when you think you’ve got things figured out, something changes and you have to figure it all out again. Not to mention, there are plenty of times where you want to change your children’s behavior, and you have no clue how to do it.

One of the resources I’ve found to have been most helpful in my parenting journey is the Zen Parenting Radio podcast. Todd and Cathy Adams always have spectacular advice for parents, and every week, they also interview someone who might be of inspiration to all of us. One week, I listened to an interview with Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children and her newly released book, Out of Control: Why Disciplining Your Child Doesn't Work and What Will. Before the podcast was over, I had bought and downloaded her second book to my Kindle app.

“Out of Control: Why Disciplining Your Child Doesn’t Work, and What Will” is a game-changer. 

I see so many parents who react to their children, and I’m guilty of it too. You know the feeling… that moment when you’ve been trying to stay calm, but your children’s bickering, or whining, or yelling has reached the tipping point and you snap at them without even having thought through what to say or how to handle the situation. 

I’ve seen parents who yell at their children for yelling at them. I’ve seen parents who spank their children while telling them not to hit another child. And I’ve seen parents who degrade their children in front of others to shame them into having good behavior. I’m not just pointing the finger at all of you. I’ve done these things as well.

But aren’t we striving for something better than that? All of us do these things in name of raising well-behaved children. But much of the time, we do these things because we don’t know what else to do. Or we don’t want to be judged by our children’s behavior. Or, maybe, we just want to be in control. 

At the heart of the matter is the simple desire for our children to grow up and be responsible, respectful, kind, compassionate, and emotionally intelligent adults. Unfortunately, many of the ways we react to our children don’t model these virtues. 

Being a parent is not about controlling our children. It’s about controlling ourselves. Being a parent requires us to be aware of our own failures, insecurities, and short-falls so that we can stop reacting to our children, and start making more mindful choices about how to navigate difficult or uncomfortable situations. I thought being a parent meant teaching my children how to behave… but in actuality, being a parent means that I finally have to learn how to behave myself. 

In the next post in this series, I’ll be discussing Dr. Tsabary’s argument that our beliefs about discipline are wrong. And I’ll also discuss what her book can offer in place of traditional discipline models. 

What do you think about the idea that “discipline” might not be working?

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