Recently one of my posts on a very old thread on a Christian mother’s message board has been revived. I wrote a post to it on April 26th, 2008, just at the time my middle child was being evaluated for selective mutism. It was in response to a thread on discipline. Discipline advice (either positive discipline or punitive discipline) is often dispensed as, well…if you do technique A, B, or C…your problems will be fixed. The original poster felt that sometimes that just wasn’t the case, but rather, the child is his or her own person and sometimes just will not respond to even the best discipline and sometimes you have to just ride out the storm. I’m really in agreement with that.
It was a post that really triggered something in me and she was simply wanting thoughts about it. I was really inspired that day to repsond. A year and a few months later, I still find what I wrote to be true.
In my family, discipline works differently for each of my children. Discipline also “looks” different with each one.
1) Discipline comes easy to my oldest. She internalizes the messages easily with little reminder and has always been that way. She has always been able to comply reasonably. She’s always been mature for her age (intellectually and emotionally).
2) My second one, the one with a possible sensory disorder [and after I wrote this post we found out it turned out to be SPD, separation anxiety, generalized anxiety and selective mutism], doesn’t internalize the messages as well and never has. But we are working on that together. With her, thoughtful observation has been critical. Knowing what situations are likely to create “fallout” is something that I have had to learn. Children, no matter how unpredictable we think they are, can sometimes be quite predictable if you keep looking. I know she has limits to what she can cope with.
My second daughter, who I thought was incredibly unpredictable, is actually quite predictable. I know, only after about a year of thoughtful observations and trial and error, that certain things lead to trouble for her.
- For her, feeding at regular intervals is critical, especially including protein to keep her blood sugar stable.
- For her, too much activity (even if it’s fun), can be completely overstimulating and draining.
- For her, I know that for every two days of busyness (playdates, school, errand running, etc), will cause a “fallout” the next day.
- For her, that third day, she will fall apart and have trouble all day long if I don’t help her. She will be moody, inflexible, prone to be obnoxious to her sisters, etc.
- For her, I have to build in down time WITH ME, because her internal regulators aren’t mature. You think, at 4.5, they would be starting to, but with sensory issues, she needs a lot of external help reading her own signals. She is quite advanced intellectually, but her emotional regulators are out of sync so to speak. And because she has a very deep connection to me, for now, I have to help her regulate herself. In time, when she learns how to self regulate, I will have to help her less.
- For her, it takes more than discipline after the fact. It is a whole new way of thinking and planning for her as an individual and us as a family. Fortunately, I’m a SAHM, so I have time to figure this out.
- For her, choosing the RIGHT method of discipline isn’t enough. For her, we have to work on setting her up for success in the first place, avoiding too much stimulation, building in enough rest times and good foods, and reading her signals and working on a solution before things escalate to mountainous proportions. It’s easier on both of us that way.
- For us, realizing that there were things beyond her ability to control has been the key to helping our family dynamic. Before we started investigating what was going on underneath the impulsiveness, the moodiness, the inflexibilty, our family was really suffering. I’ve had some pretty desperate pleas for help on [the positive discipline message boards] in the past because I felt so at a loss to make her behavior problems “go away”. I’ve also modeled some negative behavior (not on purpose, of course), because I was at my own limits sometimes. I wanted quick fixes I wasn’t going to get with dd2, and consequently, I threw my own tantrums at times. Definitely NOT helpful. Only made things worse. But the only way to make the negative behaviors (of both of us) “go away” is to find the root cause of them in the first place.
3) Now, for my third daughter, we are starting to encounter a bit of a blend between the oldest and second oldest. She’s three, and typically more on target developmentally, and is doing typical 3 year old behavior. Sometimes what works for my oldest works for her, and other times, she needs as much coaching as my second daughter does.
I have found this one thing about age appropriate expectations and children:
The more mature a child seems, the harder it is to realize that the mature child will still act age appropriate at times – and do things we think they should “know better” about.
Heck, even as adults, we still do things we shouldn’t, that we “know better” about. And yet we still do them. The reason, we are human and we are stubborn, and this is a fallen world. We disobey God’s rules just as much as our own children disobey ours. If we exhibited self control at every moment, we’d never overeat, we’d never impulse buy, never yell at our kids, and we would never create conflict with another person.
But somehow, we expect more from our children. We expect that we should have to go over something two or three times, and then never have to remind them again. If it were only that easy. But that isn’t realistic. And you are setting yourself up for disappointment, resentment and angry feelings if you expect a method to be a magic pill that will cure all problems. It won’t. But, eventually, the messages sink in, combined with maturity of the brain, they will internalize the lessons we want them to learn.
In the meantime, the best thing we can do is realize that these things take time. And we need to set ourselves up for success. Get plenty of sleep, good nutrition, so that we can cope with the reality that it takes effort and repetition and lots of observation of our kids to see what works best with them. Becoming familiar with personality traits and what sets them up for success (and what leads to trouble and avoiding that) helps a lot too.
I hope this helps. It’s taken me about 2 years to internalize the lessons I’ve been picking up along the way. And I’m sure to make mistakes, but as long as the overall progress is forward, it’s all good.
A year and a few months later, I still firmly believe in what I wrote above. Things are much improved over what things were like last year, especially because of what I discovered worked for my middle child, even though we still have some rough days. It’s not nearly as unmanageable and I have a lot more understanding and support for myself so I can deal with the rough spots (that are fortunately farther and fewer between).