An Essential for Positive Discipline:
The Peaceful Parenting Newsletter
A free e-mail newsletter from Naomi Drew
The ability to control impulse is the base of will and character.
Children need a clear definition of acceptable and unacceptable
conduct. They feel more secure when they know the borders
of permissible action.
Dr. Haim Ginott
Right now I am steeped in the writing of my next book, Hope and Healing: Peaceful Parenting in an Uncertain World, which is scheduled to come out in September. For the next few issues Ill be sending you excerpts and adaptations from Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids on key parenting issues. This weeks excerpt is on following through, an area of positive discipline many parents find immensely challenging.
Peaceful parenting rests on a balance of sticking to our standards and limits and knowing when to compromise. When we compromise too much and dont follow through on what we say, our children get mixed messages. One good rule of thumb is this: Compromise when you feel its the best thing to do, not when your children have worn you down. Choose areas to compromise that youre comfortable with. Clothing choices, certain food choices, when to do homework, how clean your childs room is, can be areas of flexibility. Core issues like speaking to you respectfully, coming when you call, listening to what you say, and physical fighting with siblings are areas where its more important to have clear standards that you stick by consistently. Children quickly learn whats negotiable and whats not.
The examples below illustrate the importance of being clear when you expect your child to listen, and following through on what you say. I hope you find it helpful.
author, Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids
Following Through on What We Say
Consistency in following through creates solid ground and sends a clear message to our children: I am the parent, and I expect you to listen. When we crumble, the ground beneath our childrens feet becomes shaky, fault lines develop, and power struggles result. Take a look at this scenario to see what I mean.
Sandra and five-year old Amy had a lunch date with Sandras friend Clarissa and her six-year old daughter, Sophie. Although Amy behaved well throughout most of lunch, when dessert-time came along things began to change. Sandra told Amy she could have a small ice cream sundae if she would promise to eat it carefully and not get any on her new white shirt. Amy quickly gave her promise, but when the sundae was delivered, she abandoned her spoon and began dipping her index finger into the chocolate syrup. No, fingers, Amy. Use your spoon. Sandra cautioned, If you dont eat carefully, Im going to take the ice cream away. But as soon as Sandra turned around, Amy quietly dipped her finger back into the chocolate syrup, which started to drip down her hand.
A few moment later when Sandra caught sight of chocolate syrup dripping down her daughters wrist, and her finger right back in the sundae, she was livid. Not wanting to provoke Amy, she stuffed down her feelings and tried tried to ignore what was happening. She prayed Amy would stop by herself, but Amy didnt. Finally Sandra turned to her with a mixture of fury and trepidation and said, OK, Amy, thats it. No more ice cream.
Dont take my ice cream away, squealed Amy in a loud voice. Ill use my spoon, see, she added, picking it up.
Not wanting to cause a scene, Sandra reluctantly relented again. Alright, Amy, one more chance, she said. But before long, as Sandra drifted back into relaxed conversation with Clarissa, Amy stuck her finger right back into the ice cream.
Amy, didnt I say I was going to take that ice cream away if you didnt use your spoon. Do you want me to do that? said Sandra, wanting to shout, but letting the words hiss out of her instead, like steam from a radiator.
OK,OK, Ill use my spoon. Do you have to be so mean! responded Amy.
Youd better, barked Sandra as she turned back to Clarissa one more time, attempting to pick up her lost thread of conversation.
Fully in control now, Amy used her spoon for about two minutes, but as she and her friend Sophie giggled, she very subtly put her spoon back on the table and very lightly put her finger back into the sundae. Chocolate fingerprints appeared all over her new white blouse.
When Sandra looked up and saw this she finally lost her cool. Thats it, Amy, Im taking the ice cream away. Give me that bowl! she yelled reaching toward it. At that, Amy grabbed the bowl tightly and held onto with both hands.
Please let me keep my ice cream! wailed Amy. Ill be good, I promise! So, Sandra, not wanting to prompt any more of a scene, gave in against her better judgment, allowing Amy to keep the ice cream, despite her continued threats and warnings.
By caving in, Sandra enabled Amy to win the battle - for the moment. But in the long run, Amy actually lost. Heres why: By relinquishing her parental authority, Sandra guarantees future power struggles with Amy. And someday, this may lead to out of control behavior on Amys part. Amy could end up crossing boundaries as an adolescent that might have serious repercussions in her life.
The message Amy gets each time Sandra ignores her own threats is that if she persists in her defiance, she will eventually wear her mother down. Thus Amys manipulative behavior is reinforced. By allowing Amy to ignore what she says, and by ignoring her own admonitions herself, Sandra is setting herself up to relive the above scenario over and over again. By the time Amy is fifteen, Sandra will have very little power, if any, over Amys behavior - and thats a scary prospect. Hard as it is to say no to our kids and follow through, it is absolutely essential that we do so when the situation warrants. Ultimately, standing by our convictions about the limits of acceptable behavior, we help our children become responsible, respectful people.
Now lets see how the above scenario may have turned out had Sandra handled it differently. Imagine for a moment that Sandra has gained some insight into what it takes to become a peaceful parent and raise peaceful kids. Shes clear on what her standards are and has made her standards clear to her children. Sandra also has become more comfortable setting limits and following through on what she says. Aside from this, Sandra has begun having family meetings where she and her children have set Guidelines for a Peaceful Family. In fact, by now Sandras family is regularly expressing their growing commitment to peacemaking. Imagine that in the face of all these changes, Amy who has always been strong-willed, is now starting to become less resistant, more cooperative. Sandra still occasionally questions her ability to set limits for Amy, but her confidence in doing so is growing. Whats helped is her positive goal statement: I trust what I need to do to manage my childrens behavior. Lets see how the scenario plays itself out now.
Amy: Mommy, Id like a chocolate sundae for dessert.
Sandra: know how much youd enjoy that but youre wearing your new white shirt. Maybe vanilla would be a better choice.
Amy: promise to be careful, Mommy.
Sandra: OK, but I expect you to be extra careful because chocolate stains.
Amy begins eating her ice cream with a spoon but before long dips her finger into it, testing her limits.
Sandra responds immediately with a balance of firmness and gentleness. She turns her body to face Amy, looks directly into her eyes and clearly says: Amy, the ice cream must be eaten with a spoon. Amy once again begins eating with her spoon but then tries dipping her finger back into the ice cream, all the while watching for her mothers reaction.
Sandra gives her a warning this time. Once again she looks directly at Amy and says firmly but calmly, Amy, Im going to take the ice cream away if you put your fingers back in it again.
Amy, wanting to see if Sandra will actually follow through on what she said, tries one more time eat the ice cream with her finger. This time, Sandra quietly lifts the bowl off the table and signals for the waitress to take it away. Amy bursts into tears and wails, I want my ice cream back!
Sorry, Amy, you didnt listen.
But Ill use my spoon. I promise.
Sandra: (lowering her voice, and looking directly at Amy with conviction) Sorry, Amy. You cant have the ice cream anymore.
Amy: (getting louder) But I wasnt finished. Theres still half a bowl left!
Sandra: (Calmly, firmly, maintaining a tone of evenness and conviction) Sorry, Amy, you cant have it back. You didnt listen, and were not discussing it anymore. At this point Sandra turns her back to Amy and decides to let her wail a little. She makes sure to completely ignore her as she does.
Amy continues to cry and complain, but soon Sandra looks directly into Amys eyes and firmly says, Thats enough. If this goes on much longer Im taking you to the car. At that point, Sandra turns away from Amy and continues her conversation, ignoring any further protestations. She is fully prepared to carry Amy out to the car and let her cry there if necessary. Amy finally calms down, realizing that her mom means what she says.
In time Amy will start giving up whining, begging, crying, cajoling, and any other kind of manipulative fussing because theyre not getting her what she wants. She is learning that Mom follows through, and the next time Mom tells her to do something, she will listen a little faster.
If Your Child Ignores What You Say
If this happens, first make her aware in a firm but non-punative way that she is doing something wrong. Avoid put-downs, labels, or derogatory statements. Just state the facts firmly, clearly and respectfully as Sandra did in the second scenario: The ice cream is supposed to be eaten with a spoon, not your fingers.
If your child continues to misbehave, give a warning and state what the consequences of her action will be if it happens again: Im going to take the ice cream away if you put your fingers back in it again.
At this point, if your child chooses to ignore what you have said, then it is crucial for you to follow through. If you say youre going to take away the ice cream, then do it the first time your child sticks her fingers back into the ice cream after your warning. No second chances now. If you keep giving second chances, you will encourage manipulation and will give your child the message that if she whines and fusses enough, youll back off. Not a good thing for her, an even worse thing for you.
Also, be brief. Dont let your child pull you into long protracted dialogues. Say what you need to say, listen to what she has to say, discuss it briefly, and then stop. If your child continues nagging after that, make a simple statement like, Thats it. The discussion is over, and then ignore her. If she really starts getting on your nerves, send her to her room when possible, or walk away. Engaging in long verbal volleys only increases power struggles and encourages your child to carry on more.
How are you at following through? Are there any issues you have trouble doing this with? Observe yourself. Then write about what you notice. Reflect on what you might want to do differently.
Books you can read to your children that help with positive discipline, all available on Amazon:
Crary, Elizabeth. Children's Problem Solving Series. Seattle: Parenting Press, 1996. Each book in this series helps children find solutions to common problems:
I Can't Wait
Mommy Don't Go
I Want It
I Want to Play
My Name Is Not Dummy
Crary, Elizabeth. Dealing with Feelings Series. Seattle: Parenting Press, 1994. Each book in this series helps children discover acceptable, creative ways to express their feelings:
Danziger, Paula. Everyone Elses Parents Said Yes. NY: Delacort Press, 1989.
Matthew uses practical jokes to get revenge for things he finds unfair. (Grades 2-5)
Peaceful Parenting Coaching
Peaceful Parenting Coaching enables parents to work individually, as couples, or with their children on practical strategies that create greater harmony, less conflict. Sessions can be done by phone or in person. Crisis coaching is also available.
To schedule a complimentary Peaceful Parenting coaching session by phone, e-mail Naomi Drew at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 609-844-1138.
Naomi Drew is the author of three books, all available through Amazon.com:
Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids (Kensington Publishers)
Learning the Skills of Peacemaking (Jalmar Press)
The Peaceful Classroom in Action (Jalmar Press)
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Copyright Naomi Drew, August, 2001 All Rights Reserved.
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Love and Peace to All of You.