My approach to discipline can be summed up in two sentences. Children (actually everyone) are in an unending pursuit of the satisfaction of their deepest needs. As a parent, I’m interested in influencing the strategies employed in that pursuit.
That may be only two sentences, but man, is that a BIG job! It’s far from easy. It’s slow work that requires patience and focus. It’s a job that requires me to quiet many of the voices that sound-off in my head about what discipline or age appropriate behavior should look like. It’s work that I’m more successful at some days than others.
A Real World Example
Not too long ago, I walked into my bathroom to discover this:
Part of me wanted to scream “No! What are you doing? Don’t climb on there! You’re going to get hurt.” But, some small voice inside my head reminded me of my discipline intention – to influence the strategy she is using to meet her needs. I was pretty sure screaming was not going to be successful.
I took a deep breath (and a picture) and remembered – I am most successful at living this intention when I do three things:
1. Take care of my own needs first. The fact is, when I’m suffering from the unpleasant feelings that arise out of my own unmet needs, I’m not the mother I want to be. I’m impatient and inflexible.
For me, one of the most unexpected aspects of motherhood is the way it forces me to take care of myself. Before I became a mom, it was easier to bury my feelings and ignore my deep needs. In this way, being a mom has profoundly impacted my relationship with God. I have to regularly press into Him to meet my needs.
But, I also have to make my needs known to those around me. So, I started by gently placing my hand on her back and saying “Sweetheart, I have a need for safety. This is not meeting my need for safety.”
2. Look for the need motivating the behavior. It is tempting to be superficial, to just see the behavior that is bothering me. But, that approach
rarely gets results.
Before she started talking, I would verbalize her needs for her (e.g., “You need you’re diaper changed”). But, it’s good for both of us if I help her try to verbalize her own needs.
She was still precariously balanced on cabinet knob and my hand was on her back, when I followed-up my explanation of my needs with “What do you need?” I thought she was doing this just for the climb, so I was just about ready to say “Do you want to play and climb?” But, much to my surprise, she said “Toofbrush.” Thank goodness I asked.
3. Strategize together about how to meet everyone’s need. I not only want to influence the way my daughter tries to meet her own needs; I want to teach her to see and respond to the needs of those around her.
So, I said “Well, how about if you put your feet back on the floor? Then, I’ll lift you up to the counter and you can grab your toothbrush. That way, I’ll feel safe and you’ll get your toothbrush.”
Within a few seconds, she lowered her feet to the floor; I lifted her up and she reached for her toothbrush. Thankfully, this is the approach she has used every time she has wanted her “toofbrush” since then.
This is hard work – influencing the strategies she uses to meet her needs and the needs of those around her- but I believe it’s one of the best investments I can make in our future.
How do you help influence the need-meeting strategies employed by your kiddos? Have your little ones ever balanced so precariously on a single cabinet knob? I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments!