Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Discipline and preschoolers

I’ve been pondering Good Like a Medicine’s comment/question on my post about Teens and Time last week:
Tell me this, when your daughters were 4/5 year olds and toddlers (mine are that now), did you ever worry that focusing on teaching them the number one lesson (authority) was going to rob them of that closeness later and shove them into rebellion. I have people I love even who warn me that "first-time obedience" and consistent discipline for "minor offenses" (they're not minor to my husband and I if we have set a rule and there is blatant defiance or disobedience) are going to be the very ways that turn our children into people who hate us later. If you struggled earlier with this, how did you deal with it? When did you start seeing that your children saw you as more than just a disciplinarian and someone with a huge heart for a relationship with them?
Well, now! There’s a loaded question!

There are whole books written on this subject, so I’m not going to attempt to cover this in 500 words or less. Just a few thoughts here.

Yes, children do need to know that parents are in charge and that obedience is necessary. We need to require obedience even before they can fully understand "why" (think: toddler crossing a street). As James Dobson says (my paraphrase), “When defiantly challenged, win overwhelmingly.” Learning to submit to a parent’s authority (and it IS a learned thing) prepares a child for life (in which things don’t always go our way), and ultimately, for submitting to God’s authority later on.

It is not an event (this was SUCH a disappointing realization to me!). It is an ongoing process. It is a process that is not complete just because you are out of the preschool years.

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know I have struggled at some level with every aspect of parenting, in every stage, period. We started out quite child-centered in our parenting, and we floundered. When the child is the center of the home universe, it takes away our God-given role as leader of the family. Children don’t know the boundaries, so then you can’t enforce any, and chaos ensues.

We had some makeup work to do to teach our children to obey, and there were some times in there where I felt like I was running a military academy.

With that in mind, I would say, yes, there are times and seasons when you are working on certain character issues and you feel as though your entire relationship with your children is that of “disciplinarian.” The preschool years tend to be years heavy on training and discipline and it can get very discouraging, especially if you have more than one preschooler ganging up on you to wear you down. Kids want to know who is in charge, and do not mind testing every boundary, from the moment they wake up until (and sometimes especially at) bedtime.

What I found, however, is that if the focus is ONLY on authority, before you know it, you can find your home resembling a police state.

I know, because, at times, I’ve been there. I wanted more than just obedience. I wanted control.

This had some nasty ramifications for my home life:

It put me at constant (and sometimes unnecessary) odds with my children. It turned every tiny interaction turn into a full-scale battle. I found it very easy to be inflexible, and in turn, to fall into disciplining with harshness (it worked, but at what cost?).

Worse, I found it very easy to fall into a form of conditional love. When my children behaved well, I "felt" more love toward them. Then, I found myself measuring my parenting success or failure by my children’s behavior and (even worse) I legalistically looked upon other people’s parenting ability with the same superficial standard. It sucked the joy right out of some of the most precious moments of my children’s early years.

I woke up one day and realized I did not want my home to look like this. I was completely out of balance.

Out of time now...I'll talk about working through that struggle tomorrow!


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with you more on this subject. Can't wait to hear what else you have to share. One thing I've learned; the more lavish the love I pour on my kids (not shown by material things or anything like that, but just by my words and actions that I care deeply about them) the more they respond to the discipline, because they also know that's out of love.

Kiki said...

I so need to read these posts! Thank you for sharing. My three year old son is strong willed, defiant and deceitful and I have my hands full. Somedays, i feel like it is all I can do to survive the day.

But, he is really sweet and good too. At some moments, it is hard to see and remember that.

Deidre said...

Interesting question. Thanks for answering it. I often feel like the warden around here with my little ones and have prayed I'm not turning them away from me. I feel like it's what they need right now (ages 6 and 2), but I throw in a lot of love and playtime. It's a balance. A tough one, at that.

Susanne said...

I have had all the same struggles as you Katherine. Unfortunately we, as parents, are also in the learning stage. And what works for one doesn't necessarily work for the other. I think a key word you said was "character issues". That was big for me. It helped me to decide whether is was just a child thing that was annoying me, personally, or whether the action was something that was character related.

Looking forward to the reading the rest.

Susanne said...

That should have said "What works for one CHILD doesn't....."

Sheesh, I need a better proofreading system.

Unknown said...

Way to leave me hanging!! LOL! Today has been one of those frustraing parenting days...and my children are 12 and 15. Our battle is around keeping their chores done. At the moment, I'm trying not to turn into the lady with the spinning head and stuff spewing from my mouth! I left sticky notes on the tv and computer warning them not to even think of turning them on...since I usually don't get home from work until about 20 minutes after them. What works at this age????

Michele Moore said...

It is such a hard balance. Disipline and obedience tempered with love and fun. It is so easy to get too serious and grumpy. There are days I feel like all I do is correct and give orders. I miss the joy and I know that so much of it is my attitude. More probably then their behavior.

Thanks for the post.

4under3 said...

Thanks for sharing. I loved it! I look forward to your additional thought on this "trial and error" time of our life.

Mindy said...

Great post. I loved what you said about control and "loving" them better when they behaved. Great things to think about and identify. What a joy, this journey of parenthood.

Meg said...

Love your thoughts, and like so many I look forward to tomorrow's continued post. It's tough. I have a 3 year old and a 3 month old (not that I have issues with him yet). I feel like the blind leading the blind. I feel like now is the time to instill some desired behaviors, but in the process I am often feeling as you that I'm only focusing on the authority...not TRULY getting the results I want. Thanks for sharing!

Aimee said...

What a wonderful post Katherine and I can't wait to enjoy tomorrow's edition with my cup of coffee. I struggle with the "wanting control" aspect and it's sure makes me one yucky mama. I hate it when I gripe about little things and make the kids feel like burdens that I carry. Sad :( Learning to receive/understand grace from the Lord so that I can give it. Parenting is an unbelievable journey. Thank goodness He's sovereign!

Missy said...

How timely...I needed this tonight. I need this every night. Could you come live with me?

Elise @A Path Made Straight said...

Daily I have to remind myself, during those early morning quiet hours, that what I do must be what God wants, and what my children need. Because inevitably, by the end of the day, I am stacking up my failures and successes against someone else's... another human, no less. People will always disappoint. He won't.
Daily. Did I mention daily? It never ends...

Debbie said...

Once again, you hit the nail on the head for the things I'm facing in my parenting. My 3yo is the strongest-willed kid I have ever met. But so sweet at times, too.

Thank you for your being vulnerable with us all. It helps to know that someone else struggled with these same parenting issues. I look forward to the next issue. But I was wondering, could you write a book maybe? (After you're done w/ your blog book, of course!)

Or else move closer to me?
"See" you tomorrow.

Lori - Queen of Dirty Laundry said...

Goodness, I can't wait to read what else you have to share on this topic, Because you certainly were describing me there! Are you sure you haven't been eavesdropping in our house?

Rebecca said...

Katherine -- I just wanted to give you a huge "thumbs up". Spoken like a wonderful mom of wonderful teenagers -- which you are!!!

Want to come over for coffee sometime? :)


Anonymous said...

I have been quietly reading your blog for some time now. I have to say, many have hit home. I've been thinking about this subject in particular (I have a four year old and a 18mth old) and trying to find that balance. I appreciate your experience and godly perspective. Looking forward to tomorrow's thoughts.

Jennifer@DoingTheNextThing said...

Good thoughts, Katherine! The one good thing about having a teenager and preschoolers at the same time, is that I can learn from my mistakes this time around! ;-)

Beck said...

My husband and I struggle with this - with our need to feel in control versus the need to meet our children's ACTUAL discplinary needs. Our oldest is our most trying child, and I find that I can never quite find the right balance with her.... sigh.