Connecting In The Chaos: This, Not That…
If we were friends in real life, we would, at some point, go for coffee and a nice long chat. Now it would have taken months of us saying “We should get coffee!” before we actually were able to schedule the day and time. Once we finally made it to the table with high calorie “coffee” in hand one of us would most likely say that we did not need all this sugar and the other would then offer their knowledge of the latest and greatest diet. That would have been my contribution to the conversation (insert hand raising emoji here). I know all about the latest diet fad details…the successful execution of said diets – not so much. That being said there was this one diet years ago called “Eat This, Not That.” It was based on the theory that all your unhealthy cravings could be satisfied with healthy substitutes. Turns out, that’s not true. When you want a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, something made with carrots and avocados will not, in fact, give you the same satisfaction. A lot of life is like that. We think we can interchange some significant aspects and get the same result. It usually doesn’t work out that way. Disciplining our children is one of those things.
I think it is a fair assumption to make that we all want well-behaved children that care for themselves and others in wise and thoughtful ways. The thing is, very few people come into this world that way. Most of us have to learn how to choose wisely and well. Much of that learning comes through the teaching and discipline our parents give us. Discipline is a tricky word. It has multiple meanings, both positive and negative. Depending on the how and why of it, it can look very different in life. One person’s self-discipline can easily become another’s obsession. One parent’s disciplining a child can sometimes be another’s abuse of a child. This is one of those areas of parenting where the details matter.
Early in our parenting, we were given the great gift of being able to watch two healthy, functional families up close and personal. Each family had multiple children, all with their own personalities, and yet, all the children were not only generally well-behaved and thoughtful of others, they were also usually very happy children. Well, we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. In fact, we wanted the patent! So we asked lots of questions. Here’s the cheat sheet:
Discipline is about their future; punishment is about their past. The heart of disciplining a child is very different from the heart of punishing a child even though the consequences may end up being very similar. Discipline says to the child, “I care about your future and who you become.” Punishment says, “I am angry at your action and you need to pay to satisfy that anger.” Those are very different messages. One is hopeful, the other shameful. A hopeful child is often willing to partner in the work; a shamed child is often going to hide.
I would love to tell you that we have done this perfectly, and you can, too. I can say that…. if I am willing to lie to you. Human beings are selfish, and anger is so often our first response. The goal is to speak to our selfish response before we speak to our children. When we can do that, we are more able to discipline our children in a loving and helpful way. When we don’t do that, then we have to circle back with apologies and “do-overs.”
If we were having that coffee, after the diet talk we would have probably talked about our kids. First, we would brag about them, but then we would most likely share how one of them is struggling and we’ve tried everything, yet, nothing has worked. I don’t know if I would have had the answer for you, but I know I would have encouraged you to keep working towards the solution with the heart of hopeful discipline. May this season be one of hot days and patient tempers as we navigate the teaching moments that will inevitably accompany all of our summer fun.