Monday
May142012

A New Approach to Child Discipline

I’ve always wanted to do what I’m about to do but don’t because I fear that people are going to hear it in the wrong way. I fear that people are going to hear a mother simply bragging about her kids and hear it as only ego. So let me just state up front – some of this is ego, yes I’m a great freaking mother and I’m super proud of myself and the way my children have turned out. However, while I want you to be in awe of me and bow down to me (that is sarcasm – please catch it), I really want you to get the actual message here, which is this: You do not have to punish your children or yell at them or really even consequent them in any way to make them turn out as you like.

Since my children were very young, I used to say to them, “I’m doing an experiment on you! I’m going to prove to the world that you do not have to punish your children, or hit them, or yell at them to have them ‘be good,' so please don’t mess up. I don’t want you to ruin my experiment.”

My children will be 17 and 20 this summer, so I think I can report in about the outcome of my experiment. Granted, the research will not be 100% complete until they die, but I think I can give an account now – at the end of their teen years – and still have some credibility.

DISCLAMER: Please realize I am trying to provide the “data” as non-biased as possible, but I am the mother reporting here so I will admit I am not 100% unbiased – just wanting to state that up front!

I know my girls are not perfect and I don’t want to paint a picture of the Brady Bunch or Father Knows Best (I know I’m dating myself with that comment.) But here are some hard core facts about my kids – and the part I love best – because I get to brag, after sitting silent for basically 20 years.

WARNING: Extreme Parental Bragging Ahead:

My oldest daughter – Tylre (pronounced “Tyler” – don’t ask, it was a pregnancy moment and she has suffered the results of no teacher EVER pronouncing her name correctly) is currently a sophomore at Elon University.

She graduated from the Interbaccalaureate (IB) program at Rickards High School, which is probably the most rigorous academic program around. I think (don’t quote me on these numbers please) about 200 students started in the program in freshman year, and only around 30 students ended up with the IB diploma. She graduated with a 4.1 GPA and was chosen as “Most Likely to Succeed” by her classmates.

She was the captain of her high school varsity team in her Senior year and president of the PeaceJam club – along with being a member of the usual million bazillion clubs that kids are in these days and volunteering hundreds of hours in the community.

In college, she is a super serious student and she has a huge desire to make a difference in the world. She was flown to Boston last summer (expense free) to be trained by Oxfam International to start an Oxfam movement on her college campus and she has. (For those who don’t know Oxfam, they are worth checking out: http://www.oxfam.org/ )

She was also 1 of about 30 students chosen to be a Periclean Scholar and work on a 3 year project of global social change and raise the level of civic engagement and social responsibility of the entire university community.

Perhaps, even more impressive than her list of accomplishments, however, is her character. One of her high school classmates once described Tylre to me in this way: “She is so funny. But what I like most about her is that her humor is never at the expense of others. She doesn’t have to tear someone down to build herself up. She is a kind and sweet human being.”

My youngest daughter – Jessica – is known in our community as one of the best high school softball players around. I can say that here because I don’t think I will get any dissent – it’s a fact! But again, it’s her character that makes my heart swell. She is a junior, also in the Rickards IB program, the Student Government Vice President (this year and last.)

Jesse has played Rickards High School Varsity softball for all three years, as pretty much their only pitcher. She is captain this year! Yesterday, during our game at Maclay – her coach took her off the mound after five innings to save her arm for districts. She has pitched just about every game this year and her arm has been hurting as a result. However, when her teammate (who is basically new to pitching) was struggling at the mound, Jesse called time out (on several occasions) to give her words of encouragement. Please know, this same player/pitcher said some difficult things to my daughter at the beginning of the year – when Jesse was a stand out on the field and at practice and it was hard for the other players because they paled in comparison. The point here is about character. My daughter did not hold a grudge. She was a team player AND she was able to see past this young lady’s comments and understand the bigger picture. Her actions yesterday on the field were probably not noticed by anyone, but as a mother, I knew what they meant about her integrity.

Another bragging point… Jesse has a 4.6 GPA in the IB program. Basically, she has made all A’s in high school – except for her first B last semester – and she even handled that “defeat” in a way that made me proud – just using it as an experience to see she doesn’t have to be perfect and she can be just fine. That is a very valuable lesson.

Bragging Complete: Now Back to Our Regular Programming

I’m pretty sure if you were to ask any adult that has spent any real time with my children about their makeup, they would get nothing but praise. In fact, I’ve had several people be in wonder about how does one “make” such great kids.

Here is the secret: I don’t punish them or yell at them or even consequent them. I use communication skills to create a connection and a forum of understanding so that they do the “right” things, not out of judgment, guilt, or blame, but because they have real understanding about how to live life in a way that is fulfilling.

I’m not special – ANYONE – can learn these communication skills if they are willing to put in the time and effort and sometimes pain. I say pain because it takes a lot more willpower to keep from hitting or yelling at your child in a moment of anger or upset (yes, I’ve had those with my children) – instead of figuring out a different way of connecting with them and letting them know what you expect.

There is some serious work involved there, but it is so worth it.

I say worth it – not because my children have seemed to excel in all the ways we, as a society, measure success. I say it is worth it because of the relationship I have with my girls. My girls like me and I really like them. We enjoy spending time together; yes, we are friends! They are not embarrassed to be with me. In fact, I think they are proud of our relationship because they understand that it is a statement of what is possible for all human beings (even parents and their teenage kids) when we take violence out of the equation and replace it with compassion and communication. There… I said it. I wrote what has been in my heart and mind for years. I hope and pray you got the message and did not just take away my enormous enjoyment in celebrating my children. Anyone can have children like these. Anyone can have connections like these. Compassionate communication IS a learnable skill. I’m ready and willing to help anyone in the world learn them! I want a world full of Jesses and Tylres!

P.S. I also hope you did not hear blame or judgment about how others choose to raise their children. I know we all do the best we can, and I also know different people have different processes. I just wanted to share the results of my experiment so that others might consider this particular approach.

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