Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Quick Positive Discipline Example

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

You can't always tell what discipline method a parent has chosen just by looking at what happens when a child misbehaves--or, as I prefer to view it--when a child makes a mistake or a bad decision.

Take our situation this morning. Over the past few days, Morgan has consistently refused to help clean up her art supplies. So today she does not have access to them.

Upon hearing that Morgan doesn't get to use her art supplies, you might think that she is being punished for her refusal to clean up. But you're missing out on the whole discipline story if you are only aware of the problem and the end result.

A Punitive Scenario

The Problem:
Morgan wants to use her art supplies, but has refused to help clean up her art mess for the last three days.

The Discipline:

Mom or Dad says, "You never clean up your art mess, so you're grounded from your art supplies today!" And hopes the child will remember this and become motivated not to make a mess tomorrow.

The Result: Morgan spends a day without access to her art supplies.

A Non-Punitive Scenario

The Problem: Morgan wants to use her art supplies, but has refused to help clean up her art mess for the last three days.

The Discipline:

Mom or Dad says, "I feel mad when I have to clean up the art mess without your help. I've had to clean it up for the last three days, and I don't want to clean an art mess up again today. So we'll keep your art supplies put away until tomorrow. What would you like to play with instead?"

Morgan: "But that's not fair! I want my art supplies!"

Dad: "You can have them tomorrow. And tomorrow I know that you will show us that you want to have access to them. Do you know what's a good way to show us that?" "What?" "By helping us clean them up. So anyway, would you like to read a book or play with your dogs now?"

The Result: Morgan spends a day without access to her art supplies.

In both scenarios, the Problem and the Result are exactly the same. Discipline is a process, and you can approach any given problem in different ways and still achieve similar results.

In the Punitive Scenario I imagined (based on how it might have been handled when I was a child), Mom or Dad is (justifiably) frustrated and doesn't want to clean up the inevitable mess without help. Yes, the consequence is a logical one--Behavior X = Consequence Y--but the process used is designed to make the child feel bad, in the hopes that the bad feeling the child experiences will be a deterrent for future behavior. The parent's view of the child is as someone who has misbehaved.

In the Non-Punitive Scenario, Dad explains his justifiable feelings about having to clean up the mess without help and how does not want to do it again. That he is basing his prediction about what might happen today on what has happened in the past. He is protecting his rational self-interests (not having to spend his own time cleaning up a mess he hasn't created) for today by making sure that the mess can not be created in the first place.

When the child raises an objection, Dad reminds her that she can get her art supplies--tomorrow. He expresses his confidence in her that she might want to demonstrate her willingness to help clean (empty words in the past), and gives her a suggestion about how she might do that. He tells her that he is willing to give her another chance to show that she will do what she says--tomorrow. Then he redirects her energy toward something that she CAN do (read a book), to help her not remain caught up in the feeling of what she CAN'T do. [Sometimes the redirection works; sometimes not. It's okay if she wants to feel sad about what's happening for a while longer.]

The child is not being made to feel bad in order to make her change her future behavior. She is being held accountable for the consequences of her poor decisions. She is being reminded that the other people in this family have rational self-interests, and that they have a right to them. She must accept the consequences for her mistake, but her parents do not dwell on the mistake--the focus is on the confidence they have in her that she is capable of making a better decision next time. And they are telling her that she WILL get that chance. They give her an idea for making a better choice, and then they leave that decision up to her. The parents view of the child is that of someone who has made a mistake. They view the situation as a mutual problem that needs resolution rather than a misbehavior on the part of one party.

This is the "positive" part of Positive Discipline. The focus isn't on trying to change their future decisions by making kids experience negative feelings (about themselves or their parents). The focus is rather on holding them accountable for their decisions, expressing confidence in them, helping them out by making suggestions or problem-solving, and showing them kindness even while a limit is being firmly enforced.

We'll find out what decision she makes tomorrow! If she makes another bad decision, then we will handle the situation in the exact same (non-punitive) way. Our emphasis is on expressing confidence in her, reiterating our needs and why, and our willingness to give her our help and as many chances as she needs. We are setting this fair limit for our own self-interested reasons.

I'm completely confident that we'll get this all figured out. :o)

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