My Kids Grow and So Do I


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Is Disciplining Spiritual? Part 1

When your kids are still babies, their needs and the care you give them often leads to a sense of symbiosis you have never experienced before. The lives of parent and child are closely intertwined, and it is hard to imagine that one day, that very same child will want to disobey you or rebel against your guidelines. Chances are, they will, and that's a good thing, too.

Challenging boundaries of behavior

     Children need to challenge the boundaries set by their parents and caregivers for various reasons. It's part of growing up and discovering who they are. In addition, they might want to know if a new type of behavior is within or without the acceptable area. At other times they might want to make sure that they have explored the full range of possible acceptable behaviors; after all, it would be a waste to let some type of behavior go unused when it’s perfectly acceptable :-). And lastly, they may just want to make sure you’re paying attention. Whatever the reason for challenging the boundaries of behavior, children need their parents and caregivers to be alert and explicit.

Honoring your shared spirituality

Parents and caregivers would do well to clearly communicate to their children the boundaries of behavior that is acceptable in an age-appropriate way, and role-model it so the children can simply copy. Once kids know the boundaries, they will want to stay within them most of the time. However, as stated above, they will want to explore the area outside of those boundaries. How can you, the parent, be strict, clear and explicit and at the same time be gentle and kind? In other words, how can you discipline a child while at the same time express and honor your shared spirituality?

     The time-out technique outlined below is a great parenting tool for those times when children venture outside of the framework of harmonious and respectful behavior. It is the crossing of the boundaries of harmony and respect that most often lead to the need to step in. The beauty of the technique lies is the respect it allows you to model and the harmony it allows you to keep access to. Because of that, you will be able to apply the technique lovingly, in keeping with the spiritual nature of both you and your child.

The Time-Out Technique

Partly thanks to the reality TV show The Supernanny the technique of a time-out on the ‘naughty step’ or ‘naughty chair’ has gained widespread acceptance when it comes to communicating to your children where the boundaries of behavior lie. Especially for young kids the time-out technique works beautifully. In fact, it was one of the mainstays in the rearing of my three boys.

Discipline Works on Three Levels

The technique is effective because it works on all three levels of our being: the physical, the mental and the  spiritual level.

     On the physical level the time-out literally restricts the out-of-bounds behavior the child was displaying, be it yelling, hitting,  bullying, etc. It effectively stops their unacceptable behavior instantly.
     On the mental level the time-out period allows the child time to reflect on what has just occurred. They will think back on what they did and will make the connection with the parent’s corrective response.

     What happens on the spiritual level when a child is disciplined through the time-out method cannot be overestimated. The key words here are: respect and harmony. Usually, the out-of-bounds behavior is deemed unacceptable primarily because it has violated respect one way or the other. A gentle, respectful and immediate interruption by the adult, followed by the child’s self-reflection, paves the way for renewed respectful exchanges among all involved. In the new situation harmony is restored and love between parent and child can again flow freely.

     The beauty of the technique is that it allows you to make clear that boundaries have been crossed in an objective way. There is no need for anyone to become emotional about it. The child will take the measure as a piece of information to process and incorporate.

     When my children were little the time-out technique was used consistently. Ours was a slightly different take on the trusted principle. In our family room we had a set-up with two easy chairs and a table in-between. On that table I had placed a plastic box full of picture books from the local library. Once a week we would visit the library where the kids were encouraged to choose several books each, to take home. During the week, we’d snuggle up in the chairs and I’d read stories to the kids, and encourage them to read or look at pictures on their own as well. This little corner associated with fun time together was our time-out corner as well. During a time-out my kids were allowed to take out a book and quietly read or look through it. I reckoned they knew instantly why the time-out was appointed and the reading seemed to calm them down. More often than not, they’d forget they were actually doing a time-out and after five or ten minutes they’d ask me if they could get out of the time-out, and of course they could.

     The fresh supply of library books would often take the edge off the punishment, hastening the restoration of harmony between us.

Paying Compliments

     When harmony has been restored and exchanges once again express mutual respect and love be sure to focus on desired behavior. Spell out for your child, in a way that is appropriate to your child's age, what exactly that behavior consists of and offer praise when your child acts accordingly. When your child remembers to take their dirty clothes to the hamper, for instance, you might want to say: "You remembered to put your clothes in the hamper, just the way I like it! Thank you. That makes my job of doing the laundry much easier." Even though to adult ears this may sound a bit over the top, kids love to be praised for a specific thing they have done and for making you, their mom or dad, happy.

Taking It One Step Further: You

     Will you join me when I take this one step further, still? Not just kids can benefit from taking a time-out and offering praise where praise is due, adults can, too. Many times in life with kids we find ourselves in situations that we can't fully oversee. We might be focusing too much on the details, not being able to see the forest for the trees. At those moments stepping back and observing may prove invaluable when it comes to getting a broader perspective. Letting go of our hold on a specific outcome to an issue will create room that allows new opportunities to become visible. The time-out technique, originally introduced as a disciplinary tool, may very well prove to be a life-long skill to reflect and gain perspective.

     And when you've managed to conquer an issue that had been bothering you for some time, don't be modest about it. Tell yourself you did well and enjoy your success!

     If this post sparks an idea or a question, please feel free to leave a comment. Thanks!   

Image of boy courtesy of
Book box image courtesy of
Supernanny image courtesy of

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