Raising Children of Peace
Edited by Farley and Betsy Jones
Children of Peace
Discipline and Love: Some Reflections on Parenting
Over the years of raising a family of five children, we have learned some ways to make the responsibility of parenting more meaningful for ourselves and our children. I would like to share a few ideas we found helpful in raising our children and building loving relationships with them.
Educating for Parenthood
When our first child was born I found myself wishing I were a teacher and had more insight into how children learn. So we began reading books on the topic. One such book was How to Raise a Human Being by Dr. Lee Salk. 1 By making me more sensitive to an infant's needs, this book made me feel more capable of meeting those needs. Instead of feeling unsure of myself if Matthew expressed a need to be held or fed, I felt encouraged by this book and by my own intuition to simply respond. Once my husband Farley had read Salk, we began to form a common parenting philosophy. At this stage-the first year of life-it was basically, not to worry about spoiling our son, but to be responsive to his need to be held and for eye contact so that he could begin to trust that his parents would meet his needs.
There are certain things that you can get from books. But even if you never read a book, if you love the baby with your heart, the baby will feel that. The baby will be so happy. Children just soak it all in.
Discipline of Children / Self-Discipline of Parents; The Inseparable Partners
Obviously, discipline plays a central role in raising a child. But early in that first year of our son's life we learned that a major aspect of disciplining our children was in disciplining ourselves as parents. We were challenged to be disciplined in many ways, including rising at any time of the night when he cried, taking time to really enjoy him during his bath and awake times, being there emotionally and spiritually while he nursed, taking him on walks and pointing out flowers and animals.
As he began to grow older, I realized I also had to discipline myself to put his needs before my need to get the laundry and other chores done at a certain time. Sometimes I felt snowed under by trying to clean, cook, and care for him. It was so much easier if I set up an environment where I could truly enjoy him. Taking him to a park to play for a short time seemed to get the day, and us, off on the right foot. At that time I also discovered that baby-proofing an area of the house for free play allows more enjoyment and ultimately less tension with each other.
Also, you can be saying, "I love you," but your body language is rough, saying something like, "Here is your bottle. Just drink the bottle and shut up." You may feel like that sometimes, but you've got to control it. You have to give a consistent message. Sometimes it isn't easy. It requires that parents discipline themselves, because sometimes these unwanted feelings come over you, and you have to learn how to deal with them. Just as in a marriage you sometimes feel disturbed by each other, your relationship with your child is going to disturb you sometimes and disturb your equilibrium. Sometimes children can outsmart you, just when you think you have everything under control.
Choices, Consequences and Empathy
Parents the world over want the best for their children. Especially regarding discipline, parents search for an understanding of when to intervene and how to respond to misbehavior. One problem today is that parents are often busy, and some find it difficult to be disciplinarians in the limited time at home. Too often, the result of this is to choose a permissive way of interacting with children. Jane Nelsen, in her book, Positive Discipline, calls for a moderate approach to discipline. She recommends giving the child limited options versus the attitude that he can do anything he wants, which is implicit in the permissive or unlimited option approach.
Based on mutual respect and cooperation, positive discipline incorporates firmness with dignity and tact. While punishment may fulfill the short-term goal of stopping the negative behavior, ultimately it only increases a child's feeling of resentment. Nelsen states:
Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better? 2
My husband and I enrolled in the STEP program, (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) and we learned that a misbehaving child is often a discouraged child. Nelsen takes this concept a step further by saying that a misbehaving child is a child who just wants to belong and is confused about how to accomplish this goal. Hopefully, by knowing that our kids are not bad but are discouraged and in need of our assistance to feel that they belong, we can do better with our children.
In our family every night at dinner, my husband asks the children to share a little bit about their day. Our oldest son Matthew is very verbal and would often go on at length about his experiences, whereas sometimes our daughter would share less. Then our third child might do something, maybe spill his milk or start fighting with his younger brother, to get our attention. What we realized was that we had to work at helping Matthew share a little bit less and Cara a little bit more, and see that Harvet was given equal time so he would sense his belonging and thereby stop misbehaving at the table. It was a simple insight, but it has a lot of implications at home and wherever else children are gathered. If you see a child raising his voice louder than others or bothering other children, often a skillful nursery school teacher will use this concept and help the child learn how to belong and fit into the group.
So it's very important, then, to be able to diagnose what the misbehavior is, as well as the need that the child is expressing through it. Is it a need for attention, or power, or what? We must try to understand the child's behavioral language.
The second point about discipline is that it's only effective in the context of love. Therefore, parents must emphasize building warm relationships with their children. The crucial thing is that the message of love gets through loud and clear to the children. And one of the things is to enjoy activities with them. When my children were young I found some classes where mothers and children swam together. We would have a mutually good experience. This is often healthier than staying at home and trying to keep the house neat while your enemy (the child!) seems to be systematically destroying it.
In his book How to Father, Dr. Fitzhugh Dodson 3 discusses the need for positive experiences, so that ninety-nine percent of your time with your child is not seen by him as time where you're scolding him or stopping him from doing something or getting after him. He states that the child needs time with you when you are not demanding anything from him and the two of you are just mutually enjoying yourselves.
In my work with families at the Ackerman Institute of Family Therapy in New York, a mother came with her child for treatment. At the end of that session they were simply encouraged to choose an activity they liked to do together and do it. The following week this brought a whole new dimension to their relationship-to have actually discussed doing something enjoyable together and to have done it!
A third point is the benefit to be gained from parents' reflecting on their own experiences as children with their parents. They can then incorporate the positive aspects of the parenting they received as they parent their own children. I remember my mother was always very thoughtful and when she was away she would often bring home a small gift to my sister and me. Also I can remember sitting at the kitchen table with her for hours when we'd have tea together; and she would fix what she called little girl's tea for me. We would discuss things and share fruit together, and she would actually spend time with me. My father enjoyed skating and skiing, and would often bring my sister and me along with him to share in these activities. I can remember experiencing how confident my father was and peaceful and fun to be with when he was doing these activities. I really enjoyed watching him and seeing him tell my mother how well I had done. So we as parents have the precious tool of recalling what worked with us as children.
The central good thing I can remember about being parented myself was that my parents often considered my needs as a child and tried to meet them. Whether it was going for an ice cream cone with my father and sister or my mother's efforts to help me with school work, I felt many times they put themselves out for my sake. They also planned trips to the ocean. Many times we rented a small cottage on Cape Cod in the summer and then my father would take my sister and me skiing during February vacation. Those are some of my best memories. Likewise with our children, we try to give them similar opportunities, for example to be near the ocean, to go fishing, to go skiing in the winter. Even if it's just once each season, they have these special times with their family in a beautiful environment.
Continuing Parent Education: STEP
Parents also need to read and to study about parenting. When we took a parenting course, we felt it was time to validate what we were doing right and try to eliminate some things which were not useful. A few major insights gained from the material and from discussions with other parents are:
We could see a common mistake we and other parents made was to expect more mature behavior from a child than he or she was capable. I can remember being disturbed that our four-year-old sometimes let me have it with an "I hate you, Mommy' especially when I was expressing a different idea from his. One father in the course reminded me that four-year-olds experiment with words like "love" and "hate" but do not really comprehend their meaning. I think I really expected our little son to be more sensitive to my feelings if he really loved me, and appreciated all that I had done for him. This, of course, was very unrealistic!
The course underscored for us as parents, the need to reinforce behaviors we liked. A major principle in learning is that behavior which is reinforced or rewarded tends to be repeated. We seemed to be doing that intuitively for good behavior. For example, we often gave them a small reward for good report cards. We realized, however, that we were not giving enough notice to the children when they were playing quietly and in control. We seemed instead, to be jumping on them for their misbehavior. We began to notice and reward more of their efforts to be good. The course stressed that a constantly misbehaving child is, as we said before, a discouraged child. We had to learn that giving attention for good behavior teaches the child he need not misbehave to get your attention. We would say something like, "You tie your shoes well' Encouragement and praise is often the way to go.
Another major point the STEP course taught us is that "every temper tantrum needs an audience' One time when two of our children were about to get into a fight, instead of standing by and watching we took a different approach. Farley looked at me and said, "Shall you and I have breakfast?" And we both left the room. It was amazing to us that by removing ourselves as the audience, the two children somehow solved their differences and joined us peacefully rather than creating the expected uproar. Conversely, we made a rule that if they wished to disrupt dinner with a fight about something, they were to do it elsewhere. This of course made the process much less rewarding for them.
There are some techniques which can help with negative behaviors. Both are on the preventative side and help reduce tension between parents and children. Distraction is good with younger children. When a young child persists in trying to climb to dangerous heights it may be time to call him over for a story or a snack. It almost feels like magic when you say, "See the wonderful things I have for you to do over here?" A toddler has a short attention span and is highly distractible. With older children, explaining and allowing them to experience natural consequences is good. There may be a problem, for example, of children fighting with each other while the TV is going. One way to deal with it would be for the mother to give a warning and explain the consequences if they continue. She might say, "Please stop fighting or else I'll turn off the TV" If the children persist then the mother calmly warns them again. If the children continue to fight, the mother turns off the TV and states: "I guess you have chosen not to watch TV."
My husband and I recently took a course in marriage enrichment. The course dealt with developing feeling in the relationship. It stressed that you can utilize certain techniques so that you're not just reacting to each other. They were suggesting a way of reflecting back each other's feelings. They advised for the sender to freely send the feelings that they have, and for the receiver to reflect back the feelings, and to contain their reactions, and just allow the person to have their feelings. They emphasized how important this was to keep the communication safe. It's the same with children. Reflecting feelings often helps the child feel that you understand. When a child looks upset and angry and you reflect back non-judgmentally with the words, "You look angry," you can really open up communication. When I do this, it also helps me to realize that I'm not trying to control how they feel, but that I accept them and want to help them control their actions.
Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish in their book, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, 4 suggests that parents acknowledge a feeling with the words, "Oh. I see." And give the feeling a name: "That sounds frustrating:" Or, "You sound angry'." She also stresses that you can give the child his wishes by fantasizing. For example, "I wish I could take you to the park right now!" Sometimes a child will come home very upset that the team lost the soccer game. And you can try to help them minimize those feelings, or you can say, "You sound upset. I wish that the game could have turned out better for you and that the team could have won'." In other words, you can give the child his wishes in the form of a fantasy. And the effect of this is to teach the child that his feelings are accepted. And then you can put your energy into helping to teach them that although you're angry, you have to use words, not fists on your little brother or on the team or at the coach, or whatever it is.
The Vertical Dimension
I think that there is meant to be a vertical relationship between parents and children. Sometimes parents make the mistake of trying to just build the relationship on a buddy-buddy level and even communicate in some way to the child that the child must fill the parents' emotional needs. Then the child is forced into a position to parent, his parents, and he cannot grow naturally. So there is a need for parents to represent authority in the family and to realize that the discipline is the parents' second most important gift to the child, next to love. To set limits together in a consistent and effective way is a difficult job. It helps to think of discipline as teaching rather than punishment-teaching that there are standards in the family. For example, "You may have negative feelings toward your younger brother, but you don't use your fists in our family' I remember saying to one of our children who was having a hard time accepting some of my guidance, "Well then, maybe I shouldn't give you any more guidance' His eyes filled with tears and he said, "Mom, if you didn't give me guidance I'd feel like you didn't care'." So it's very important for parents to maintain their vertical position toward children and yet somehow to join and establish firm limits and set standards within the family.
Some Pointers on Responsibility and Values
Part of our job as parents is to give responsibilities and care about how things are done and carried out. In our family everybody is expected to do chores and to have responsibilities. For me to check on those and make sure they've done them takes a certain discipline, to continue to invest in teaching them how to clean up a bathroom or how to clean the stove. But that can be a positive thing.
Everybody in our family has a job to keep the house clean. Someone is the garbage collector; someone does the bathroom, etc. Every week we do it, and then we switch at some point. Cara's job used to be making sandwiches. She used to love to make sandwiches for the whole family. In fact, at some point I tried to change her job so that she would be the garbage collector. But she said, "Mom, can I keep the sandwich job? I want to make a record" So I said okay. And she did it all through grammar school and high school. She has four brothers, and she used to make sandwiches for the whole family. "I want to make a record by keeping that job:" I think that helped her to feel very responsible. She had a sense of not only being responsible, but that she contributed to making the family work, smoothly, whether the parents were there or not. Those feelings of strength can come through giving responsibility and teaching responsibility.
What about teenagers? If the overall view is to raise them to be committed and faithful in marriage, then preparation in teenage years includes having wholesome and healthy relationships and realizing that peer pressure can be used to encourage younger children to seek adult approval. To teenagers, however, peer pressure is paramount.
Our eldest son and daughter, Matthew and Cara, felt that the key factor in their successful navigation of the teen years was having friends who shared their values. We made much effort to have summer camps and to provide opportunities for vacation visits, all so that they could have solid peer support in the values we deemed significant. To make this a priority takes a certain amount of effort and discipline on the parents' part.
Joy in Parenting, Joy in Life
As I was preparing this paper, my son interrupted me to show me his yearbook and to share his excitement about the Senior Tea. It takes a certain amount of discipline to stop and enjoy the moment with a child when he chooses the moment.
One time I felt some tension in my relationship with one son and asked him what I could do to help the situation. He said, "Just come to my basketball games, Mom:' So, although I felt I had attended my share of soccer and basketball games over the years, and even though I had other demands on my time, it was very important in my relationship with this child to be there physically. In our family, sports have been great activities. My daughter took dance lessons and had dance recitals, and she also played sports. Our sons were very involved in sports activities. Our presence along the sidelines cheering them on, being a part of their victories or their difficulties along the way, was crucial in building relationships with them in the things that were important to them. In whatever activities they chose, being supportive of those activities and taking the time to attend them was very important.
Finally, we love our children by enjoying them. I always felt my parents enjoyed my personality. My mother used to say, "Out of the mouths of babes come gems:' They just enjoyed some of the expressions I had as a child, and these things are truly important. If you think of children as having been created to bring joy, then as we take those moments to enjoy them and to enjoy what they want to share with us, their purpose is fulfilled.
However, at the core of your relationship with your children is your relationship with your spouse. It's worth every kind of struggle you go through, to struggle through your emotions, to make that kind of substantial base with your spouse. Then multiply further and further extensions. This family joy is so beautiful and so precious that you can leave the false love in the dust. Some people wonder, "Will I always struggle with this thing or that thing?" But truly there's a point where you take in enough family joy and create enough family joy that you are really protected.
How to unfold this family joy? For us it took a long time to unfold husband/wife security, but we did it, and there is joy from that! Then it takes a certain amount of time to unfold and understand how to deal with all these children. In some ways to me it felt like popcorn going off. They're full of beans, all of them! Knowing how to deal with all of this was challenging.
Of course, we must free ourselves of some of the complicated feelings surrounding momentary obligations. We must emerge from the humdrum into the essential. Seen from a true perspective, our children's interruptions are breaths of fresh air for the soul. There we can really take in their beauty and the joy that they want to give us. If they feel how their parents enjoy them, that will validate and strengthen so much in them.
All of our efforts to teach/discipline our children are meant ultimately to create a familial structure in which love can flow. That flow of love brings joy. Optimally this structure and flow intimately involve God, who is after all Heavenly Father to each and every parent and child. God's heart yearns to consult and collaborate -- to comfort, harmonize, and illumine every last aspect of our familial course. Nothing we face as parents and children is too mundane to attract His notice and care. Nothing is too sublime. Sharing our family life with God is like letting in sunshine. The great key and the great mystery is that by allowing ourselves fully to experience His overarching, absolute love-God's great parental heart, we are imbued with joy and given the capacity to pass love and joy on within our families and throughout our lives. Our children are meant to bring us joy, and we them. Take joy!
Tasha Tudor has written and/or illustrated a number of sweet books for children. Among them is a glorious Christmas book called Take Joy! Perhaps we can close with the book's keynote quotation from which its title was taken. The speaker, writing in A.D. 1513, is one Fra Giovanni:
I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not, but there is much, that, while I cannot give, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet, within our reach, is joy. Take joy.
And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.
I. Dr. Lee Salk, How to Raise a Human Being, New York: Random House, 1969.
2. Jane Nelsen, Positive Discipline, New York, Ballantine Books, 1987, p. 14.
3. Dr. Fitzhugh Dodson, How to Father, New York: N. A. L. Dutton, 1975.
4. Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
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