Children are wonderful. I never thought I’d be saying these words, yet here we are. I love kids. They’re cute, they’re fun to play with, and their ever curious minds intrigue me. They’re just little versions of us. Much better versions, I would say. Let me also preface this by saying I used to think children were evil. That kid screaming at the top of his lungs in a quiet restaurant? Yep, I hated him. That kid doing his best demon possession, writhing around on the floor in line at the supermarket? What the heck??? That kid slapping his own mother in the face and then laughing? EVIL, EVIL, EVIL!
I am now the person responsible for that child (I just let out a sigh). Before having Dorian, I never gave much thought to how I would discipline. I always thought, “Well, my parents spanked me. I guess I’ll just do that.” And do that, I did. And it did not work.
The thing is, I didn’t like doing it. I mean, I don’t think any parents do. It’s stressful and, to be really honest, it’s just mean. It’s taken me almost a year to finally come to that realization. But once I did, I was lost and confused. What am I supposed to do instead? How else do parents parent? I didn’t have any friends or family members who didn’t spank or yell or use time out. Discipline by my cultural standards involved physical punishment. Obedience was obtained by being harsh. I remember the fear I felt when I was shouted at. It wasn’t so much the spanking — it was the tone in my parent’s voice. Even now, I find myself feeling meek when I’m in a situation where people are shouting. I cry. I feel like I want to disappear.
Through some thoughtful introspection, I started to question my beliefs about discipline. I had never challenged these ideas before. I took society’s version of retribution against children’s bad behaviors as gospel. I mean, it makes sense: Hurt a person enough mentally or physically, and you’ll establish dominance over them. If you’re being tortured, of course the only logical thing is to do whatever the person inflicting that pain says. That’s how you form obedience. But our children aren’t our prisoners. They’re not our subordinates. They’re ours. They’re people, too.
Developmentally, children are not capable of regulating their emotions, nor do they have the ability to calm themselves. A tantrum is literally a cry for help. Their emotions are unstable and everywhere all at once. It would be really frustrating if someone came up to me during an emotional breakdown and said, “Calm down. You can’t behave this way around me.”
Can we put ourselves in our children’s shoes when they’re going through a tough time? This all comes down to empathy. Parents know when their kid needs something. The first thing to ask yourself is this: Is my kid hungry, tired, overstimulated, or needing attention? Instead of focusing on the behavior alone, I always bring into focus what Dorian needs at the moment. From there, I can find a solution to the problem. If I try and fail, I try again. Sometimes these interactions don’t go smooth and I have to resort to other measures like trying to find a distraction or removing myself from the situation. I still get frustrated at times and need moments to myself when his emotions are high. I’m still a work in progress.
One suggestion I’ve come across in my research that I’d like to try is a “time in.” Unlike time outs, time ins are a quiet space where both the parent and child go to when a tantrum erupts. It’s recommended to fill the area with calming items like a soft blanket or a favorite toy. This is a place where the child can be surrounded by the tranquility of his favorite things without being left alone in a crisis. Some days, I don’t even know what to do, but I wing it. I still lose it sometimes. I’ll yell or I’ll swat at his hand, but I’m becoming more and more conscious of what I say and do.
If any readers out there are concerned about spoiling their children by not enforcing physical punishment, know that’s impossible. Spoiling and engaging your child emotionally are two totally different things. For example, my mother gives Dorian her cell phone to watch YouTube. Sometimes he gets upset because the ads are too long or he closes out YouTube and proceeds to call everyone on my mom’s contact list. She takes it away, and he loses it. After a couple minutes, she gives it back. That is spoiling! If I’m trying to connect with Dorian while he has a meltdown and comfort him to my best ability, is not spoiling.
We forget that disciplining is not about consequences and punishment. Disciplining is about teaching our kids right from wrong and equipping them with the skills to be great communicators and emotionally sound adults. You can never spoil your child with too much love. It takes patience not to hit. We adults have big emotions sometimes too. It’s time for the parents of the world to realize we can’t expect our kids to be perfect all the time if we ourselves aren’t on our best behavior 24/7 too. There’s a learning curve to reformed discipline. All it takes is some perseverance and a willingness to do right by your child.