Since Gavin was little, my approach to discipline has always been the soft approach. I’m against corporal punishment and I believe in positive discipline. I have never hit Gavin, ever, although I have yelled at him when I’ve lost my temper with him – not that I’m proud of it. Despite the fact that I often received comments from outsiders that Gavin is very well behaved, I have been criticised by close relations for my “soft approach” to discipline.
When it comes to discipline, I truly believe that you have to stick by what you believe in. I find that I am most comfortable using the so-called “soft approach” and the voice of reason with Gavin. I’m happier and I find that Gavin is generally more cooperative when I apply this method. Recently, I had some issues with Gavin regarding discipline – my well-behaved boy had taken a turn for the worst and I was stunned to silence.
In fact, before the incident with the book, it appeared that Gavin’s misdemeanours had been escalating of late. Being the self-doubting person that I am, I started to wonder if my “soft approach” had been back-firing on me. Was I suffering the consequences for it? I tried to be more firm with Gavin but it seemed the tougher I got, the worse he got. Soon, I was reacting to everything he did. Instead of using my rational mind to deal with his misdemeanours, I was making poor discipline choices because I was losing my temper with him. It was a catch-22. The more I lost my temper with Gavin, the worse he got and the worse he got, the more I lost my temper. We were going around in circles and it had to stop.
Perhaps the book tearing incident was a good wake-up call for me or we might still be running around in circles right now. I stopped to take stock of my approach towards him and tried to be more understanding. Instead of slamming his actions with my “I’m Mum so you listen to me” voice, I tried to come around from his point of view. Instead of waiting for him to do something wrong before I spoke to him, I made more effort to recognise his good behaviours and praise him for them.
We had a few moments of hysteria which set me on edge, but I reminded myself that we were where we were because I hadn’t been helping him learn to deal with his emotions. He is the child, I am the adult. With my years of experience, if I can still fall prey to my rage, how can I expect my three year old to keep calm when he’s just suffered a huge disappointment by his child’s standards? I also had to remember that what seems inconsequential to me is actually a big deal to a child. I still remember feeling slighted by my Dad as a child who made light of the issues in my child’s world because he couldn’t “understand my problems”. In my Dad’s adult world, my problems may have seemed small, but in my child’s world, they were big issues indeed.
I think a lot of problems stem from that. As adults, we have forgotten what it is like to be a child facing these problems for the first time. What seems like “nothing” to us is actually a big deal in a child’s world. If we can learn to equate a child’s problems to a relevant example in ours, then we can better understand why our children behave the way they do.
I remember hubby commenting once, “What on Earth can a baby have nightmares about?” This was in regards to Gavin’s nightmares when he was still an infant. Indeed, what could be so troubling to a baby that it would cause nightmares? Obviously a lot – the trauma of birth; the scary noises from the TV, slamming doors, car engine; feeling cold; feeling hot; feeling alone… I could go on. Extend it to a young child and it could include stuff like losing a toy, running out of a favourite food, not being allowed to watch TV, having to go home after a big day out – you get the drift. They seem so insignificant in our adult world, but if you equate them to some of our adult examples I’m sure there are plenty of adults who don’t cope well in the face of such disappointments either.
Since reinstating my “soft approach” to discipline, Gavin has been falling back into line. He’s begun to apologise on his own again without me having to say anything about it. He’s also sounding a lot more remorseful when he apologises which clearly shows he wants to correct his behaviour. Although we’re quite not back to where I would like us to be (because I still suffer from occasional lapses), we’re definitely a lot better off than we were a couple of weeks ago.
Does gentle discipline really work? For us – you bet it does!