I attended a parenting class last week. Self-conscious as I was going into it, I was not the oldest person in the room. There was a fair amount of graying hair–various educators, as well as other grandparents, were in attendance. We were drawn to the free two-hour session by its title: “Say Yes to No: Teaching Kids Self-Discipline.” (It was based on the book to the right, which you can learn more about here.)
Our Lucy, bright and funny and energetic, is still a typical three-year-old: willful, testing her limits, testing our limits, asserting her own will. I know we need to get a handle on that, but instead I have found myself having PTSD (preschool temper & sassing days) flashbacks, along with the feeling that I never did know quite how to handle this stage.
My epiphany–although I couldn’t articulate it until just now–has been the realization that while self-discipline and self-control are largely the same, disciplining a child is not at all the same thing as controlling her.
And therein lay my greatest parenting failures.
I used to think that an effective parent controlled their child’s behavior…like programming a cute little machine, which then said please and thank you and was always quiet while waiting in line. Where was my mind??
One of the most helpful teaching points from the class was this: remind your child that when he chooses disobedience, he also chooses the consequences. For instance: you have told the child that throwing herself on the floor and screaming will result in being carried from Target and taken straight home (by-passing the ice cream store). When she does so anyway (because she doesn’t want to ride in the shopping cart), you remind her that she has just chosen to leave the store and go straight home. Then you do that. (And experience a silent moment of great moral victory.)
I have found this principle (and some others) to be extremely effective this week. So has Lucy. We have had far fewer meltdowns, I’m happy to say.
So. What about my failures in disciplining myself?? Who follows me around reminding me of the consequences when I stay up past midnight again, or when I eat that
second third brownie?
The Park Forum, a daily devotional blog I’ve mentioned here several times, highlighted some pertinent quotes recently. Here’s one that convicted me:
“Free moral agents always act according to the strongest inclination they have at the moment of choice.”
“We can always do what we want to do, if we want to do it sufficiently keenly.”
“To walk in the presence of the Lord means to move forward in life in such a way that all our desires, thoughts, and actions are constantly guided by Him. When we walk in the Lord’s presence, everything we see, hear, touch or taste reminds us of Him.”
Like Lucy, I want what I want, when I want it (or at least a part of me does). But I see clearly that when Lucy is being guided by our discipline, she is happier, more contented and peaceful. When she is getting what she thinks she wants, she grows more and more tearful, demanding and miserable–just like me on five hours sleep and too much sugar.
Lucy at three and a half needs her parents’ daily, hourly attention in order to help her to make the best choices. And I am confident now that she will grow in her ability to say “no” to herself.
What do I need? I need daily, hourly attention to my heavenly parent, praying and staying focused on the Lord and His will. I need to listen to the still small voice which speaks truth to me, because in some ways I am no better than a small child at saying “no” to myself.
“Lord, we confess that our hearts are deceitful and sick. We do what we do not want to do, even as we lament that, at a deep level, we do–indeed–want to do it. The real work takes place not ont he ground of our behaviors, but in the soul of our desires. In that, Lord, we have no hope apart from You. Therefore, teach us to want. Make holy our desires. Amen.”
[The Park Forum post quoted above made heavy use of a book which I have recently begun reading, Teach Us To Want, by Jen Pollock Michel. I highly recommend it.]