Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Positive Discipline Toolbox: Applying Decide What You Will Do to Parenting

(posted originally at Reepicheep's Coracle)

Yesterday, I wrote about how I applied the Decide What You Will Do tool to communication with other adults. Today, I would like to give some examples for how this tool is also useful with children.

As a quick review for those who didn't read the other post (though I can't imagine why they aren't following my blog as their most beloved task), Decide What You Will Do means realizing that you can't control the behavior of others and accepting the responsibility for your own behavior. It means sticking to the things you know are right, even when they don't cause others to immediate fall into line with all your plans. It is intimately connected with selfishness because deciding what you will do means looking at your own values and morals, deciding for yourself what will lead to your happiness, and doing that thing no matter what.

So how can this tool be used in parenting? The most important part, I think, is to recognize that you can't make children do a lot of things. You can't make them sleep, you can't make them eat, you can't make them learn, you can't make them stop crying, you can't make them pee or poop on cue. You can encourage them to do these things. You can make them so afraid of you that they will do these things just to avoid the consequences. But, if their little brains are completely set against the thing, you can't push a remote control button and make it happen.

Once a parent acknowledges that he doesn't have control over his children, he can focus on his own behavior and on creating an environment where children will learn to focus on theirs. Here are some ways I can imagine a parent using the Decide What You Will Do tool:

  • An infant is waking up in the night really often. Mom has tried everything; Dad has tried everything; Baby will not sleep more than 2 hours. Mom is feeling excessively angry about baby's demands. Mom can decide that she will get up with baby, but if she gets too angry, she will wake Dad to take over instead of yelling. (I wish I had done this one.)
  • 8 month old baby refuses to take a bottle and will only take a few sips of breastmilk from a cup from Dad. Mom wants to go to chorus practice alone for 2 hours. Mom decides that she will go and sing, and the baby will have to take what's in the cup or wait 2 hours. (This is one I had to do. Note: I would have made a different decision if the baby was very young. Deciding what you will do must be used with the context of parent and child in mind.)
  • A toddler has a tantrum in the grocery store. Dad cannot make the kid stop screaming, but he can decide that every time this happens they will leave the store immediately. (Who hasn't done this one?)
  • A toddler with a new sibling has a potty regression. Mom might decide to clean the mess up without saying a word and giving the child extra time alone with Mom at others times during the day.
  • A five year old interrupts conversations and knows that if he needs attention, he can tap Dad's shoulder and wait for him to finish his thought. Dad might decide that he will ignore all inappropriate ways of getting his attention and only respond when tapped. He might decide to give reminders about the shoulder tap at other times before the child has interrupted.
  • While problem solving about going to the pool with an eight year old, the child storms away, and she refuses to talk about the problem. The parent might decide that he has expressed himself in the best way he can, that he can't make the child communicate, and that they will just not go back to the pool and encounter the problem again until it has been solved. (Very similar to the situation in my post yesterday about conflict with an adult.)
  • A teenager gets a couple of speeding tickets, and his parents decide that they are not comfortable with loaning him the car.
None of these examples is a rule. Parents will decide different things based on their values and the situations they are in. The commonality is that the parents recognize that they cannot control their child's behavior directly and can only control their own. They make decisions about what they are going to do, and they stick to it.

Sometimes the sticking to it can be kind of hard. When Livy was a volatile toddler (dude, you have no idea!), she had tantrums in public places pretty often. I decided that I wouldn't let her disrupt everyone, so every time she cried or screamed loudly, we went home. It was hard to leave a store I really wanted to go to or to leave a restaurant. But I did it.

The follow-through is important for two reasons. Children (and adults) learn whether or not to believe what you say about yourself by watching to see if you actually do it. And even more important, if you decide to do something and know it is right, not to follow through shows a lack of integrity. Doing what we know is right is not only good for our kids, but it is good for us, as all virtuous behavior is.

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