We are now at the end of our examination of a Parenting Effective Discipline Report card. Today readers are invited to consider adding our last “F” to that report card—being Flexible.
Flexibility helps parents effectively apply key principles of disciplineDiane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and GrandmotherDevelopment
Effective discipline is more of an art form than a science, requiring that parents know and understand key principles and then use them to create healthy and appropriate disciplinary responses. Their children need limits to be set or maintained. There is no one exact way to parent or guide every decision, no one exact way to discipline, no one single principle, other than making sure whatever choices parents make will maintain the emotional and relational health of children.
Being flexible involves…
…a willingness to assess the situation and, from a position of strength, adapt and adjust one’s responses to fit the particular needs of everyone involved.
The first part of this— assessing the situation— involves being able to take a deep breath and consider what might be really going on at more than a surface level. Assessing involves looking at behaviors, especially those that parents consider to be negative, as symptoms of underlying needs and then considering what those needs might be.
As children grow and gradually mature, the reasons behind their behavior regularly changes. This is based on tasks they are working on developmentally, their specific temperamental traits, what in their life situation might be that can influence those behaviors and the overall landscape of their neurological growth. What’s happening in their unique brains is based on the millions of inner messages and beliefs that have been created from before birth until the present moment.
Obviously, making assessments takes some time to do well!
Often parents need to tell children that they are considering how to respond and the children need to give them that space so the parent’s decision is a healthy and appropriate one. As Barbara Coloroso so wisely said in Kids Are Worth It, if the situation is not life-threatening, morally wrong or dangerous, parents can take their time to decide what is an appropriate response.
A second important feature of being flexible involves doing so from a position of strength.
Parents should never be afraid of their children’s disapproval or anger. If children believe they have more power than their parents, the relationship is off-balance and children actually can feel very insecure knowing deep down they really can’t survive without their parents.
Sometimes children misbehave because they do not have confidence that their parents will assume authority and the resulting anxiety in children causes them to act out. Claiming your authority is a way of claiming your power as a parent, not because you are going to be some kind of dictator who misuses that power, but rather that you recognize that your children need and deserve a parent who is strong and in charge.
From this position of strength and personal self-confidence, understand that you have more power than your children, and that you need to be in charge and are more capable of making good choices. While they may not always agree with you, you are more mature and have better judgment than them. With that said, you can be flexible in your decisions about how you will set limits and any appropriate consequences that might be needed.
Invitation to reflect:
- To what extent do you feel self-confident in your parenting so that you can make flexible decisions from a position of strength?
- How well-equipped do you feel you are to make assessments when your children misbehave, assessments that look past the outward behaviors and more consider underline causes of the behaviors?
- On what do you base assessments? Are there things that you need to learn about child development and temperament that might improve the accuracy of your assessments?
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network