Have you ever picked up a parenting book and gone directly to the back section? You know what I’m talking about. The “if they do this then you do this” section. It’s okay, to be honest I’ve done it too.
Hey, I get it. As parents we want our children (no matter what their age) to make good choices and to follow the guidelines and expectations we have of them as parents. But I think it’s easier at least in the short-term to focus on discipline (how we respond when our children disobey) rather than spend time teaching and training our children first.
Structure, guidelines and rules are a part of most families and every parent wants their child to follow them. But a common mistake parents make is disciplining for wrong behaviour before training for right behaviour.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. When our children began going to school, one of our expectations was that when they arrived home, they would hang up their coats, empty their backpacks (in the appropriate places) and make sure everything was put away, before getting a snack or playing etc.
A mistake on our part would have been to think we had done our job simply by telling them what we expected. I think after numerous failed attempts, they would eventually have gotten very frustrated with us and we wouldn’t have see any progress either.
So here was our plan.
First, teach them. We walked them through what it would look like to arrive home from school. We explained what was expected and made sure they understood what we were asking of them.
Second train them. We practiced. Not after school but on a Saturday morning or after dinner. We had them practice coming home from school; hanging up their coats, emptying their backpacks and putting things away.
Third, be clear on the consequences of failing to follow through on our expectations up front. If they failed to follow through with the “after school” routine we had agreed to, then a specific, predetermined consequence would follow.
We would monitor how things were going and when they put away their things after school as planned we celebrated that. If they came home and dropped everything at the front door we would call them on it. In the beginning we might extend some grace and not follow through with the predetermined consequence…instead we would have them start over. Put their shoes, coats and backpack back on, go back outside and come home again. This served as more training and was usually perceived as more painful than the consequence might have been. (We didn’t make them go back to school but there were days we thought about it.)
Teaching, training, discipline. Three parts of good parenting. But don’t skip the first two and go right to discipline. A good rule of thumb, “Don’t discipline for what you don’t teach or practice first.”
What do you think? Share some of your parenting strategies. Are they different from how you were parented? If so, how?