By: Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT
I have two little boys- ages 3 and 7. I am divorced and have primary custody of my children. I also have a full-time job, I am in a committed relationship with a man who also has two little boys- ages 5 and 8. In addition to juggling my job, my relationship, and my children, I also try my best to foster friendships, relationships with my family and take care of myself both emotionally and physically. I often find myself laughing at the circus that has become my life. But, when I am not laughing, I sometimes find myself stressed to the maximum, stretched too far, and on the verge of a breakdown that might look a lot like the ones my 3- year- old sometimes displays. In the middle of the grocery store. In front of large crowds.
On the days when I am “on the verge”, I swear it feels like my boys are trying their best to see one of those meltdowns from me. Why do they seem to not understand that we only have 30 minutes to get to t-ball practice when I know that we have at least 45- minutes’ worth of driving to the daycare to pick them up, taking them to the potty, changing their clothes and mine, feeding them a snack, and driving across town to actually get to the practice? Why don’t they get in the bathtub the first 3 times I make the request? And why, oh why, will they not eat the dinner that I cooked them (because they claim not to be hungry) but get out of bed 99 times to ask for a snack?
Let’s be honest here… my story is not unique. All of us have our own stressors that impact us in a variety of ways and all of us have moments of complete despair when it comes to our children and how to parent them. As far as discipline goes, we all have our own techniques, too. Some of them work better than others. Some of them don’t work at all and some of them only work for one child but not the other. If you are looking for the answer to how to stop getting stressed about things in your life or how to get your children to be perfect, you might want to stop reading this blog. BUT, if you are looking for things to consider as a parent when you are “on the verge” like I sometimes find myself, you’ve come to the right place.
Before you start to discipline your child for doing the opposite of what you desire, consider the following:
- What is your reason for taking action? This is an important question to ask yourself. Try to think about the reason you want to discipline your child. If it is because they are violating a rule in the house or putting themselves in harm’s way, that’s one thing. But, if they are “getting on your nerves” or “embarrassing you”, you might want to think a little bit longer before you make a move. You can also talk to your child or redirect them in a manner that gets the point across but still feels warm.
- Are your emotions determining your reaction? Some of us might find that we are acting out of stress, anger, or fear when we are disciplining our children. You may result in spanking your child or using physical punishment when you act out of anger or stress from other life factors, as mentioned above, that don’t really have anything to do with your children. If you can get to a place where you are not acting from emotions, your discipline techniques could be a lot more effective.
- Parents sometimes need time-outs too! Yes, you read that right! There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting yourself in time-out. In fact, it shows your strength and ability to self-reflect and take a moment to think before acting. As long as your children are safe, allow yourself to walk away and take a few minutes to breathe deeply and reflect on the situation at hand.
- Children are not little adults I am guilty of forgetting this sometimes. My 7-year-old is wise beyond his years and has far exceeded me in intelligence at this point, but I have to remember that he is not an adult in a child’s body. He still has a lot of developing and growing to do just like other children. He still spills drinks all over my brand-new car and cries and asks for 10 Band-Aids when he falls and scrapes his knee. So, think hard about the way you are trying to discipline your child the next time it doesn’t work for you. Are you meeting them at their level or expecting them to meet you at yours?
- All children are different Just like adults, all children differ too. Just because one technique works for one child, it does not mean it will work for another. This happened in my own home when I was growing up. While I could have cared less if my parents restricted me from playing sports, my brother would be devastated. And, while he would have cared less being restricted from talking on the phone, I was beside myself when I couldn’t socialize after school. So, remember this when other moms are telling you what works for their children and you wonder why it doesn’t work for yours. And, remember this when your second child doesn’t seem to respond like your first with any discipline technique that you try. Keep trying! You will eventually find what works for them.
- Sometimes, you just have to laugh And, finally, the humor. Kids can be frustrating and complicated, but they can also be delightful and quite funny. Try to find humor in your children sometimes rather than immediately seeing their behavior as negative. Sometimes, your child might just decide that he wants to put his underwear on his head and run around the house for a bit. Try to sit back and laugh- and remember that these moments will be gone before you know it.
If you would like more information on spanking as a discipline technique, please join us for Unintended Consequences: What We Now Know about Spanking and Child Development.
This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the Social Media and Programming Coordination Specialist for the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development concentration on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.