Aaahhh, discipline. Discipline, discipline, discipline. It’s one of the main things I hear people talking about when they talk about what is wrong with “kids these days”. And frankly, I’ve been one of those people. I’m a little old school. I think keeping score during kids games is great. I think we coddle our kids too much. I think we negotiate way too much with them and sometimes “I said so” is just the answer they need to hear and deal with. But, I had an eye-opening experience during a class we are taking for our yearly foster care licensing hours requirement. It’s an amazing class called “Attachment Parenting”. It is designed more specifically for kids who have been in the foster care system and for whom traditional discipline and parenting tactics just don’t work, or even perhaps backfire. For example, a kid who has had thirty placements and is under the assumption that they are not wanted or cared about or not good enough, does not need a time out. In some ways, they have been in time out for years. And in fact, being pushed away yet again for not doing the right thing reinforces those feelings and worsens behavior. It doesn’t serve the purpose that it might with a kid who has grown up in a loving home and hasn’t faced a lifetime of rejection. So this class teaches different techniques to help, not only discipline and teach these kids, but more importantly and central to the class, help them form attachments to others, especially you, as a new adoptive parents.
I found that the techniques and information, however, was extremely applicable to all families, and shows more creative, positive and successful methods of parenting any child. One image that really stood out to me was the metaphor of the kite. I snapped a picture of the diagram out of our workbook, so I apologize for the less than stellar quality. As you can see, the kite represents the child. We, or the caregiver, is the kite-flyer. Our attachment with the child is represented by the string, and the tail represents discipline. Our goal is to get that kite flying high. Don’t you think that is an amazing image and an amazing, but daunting goal? Many people think that training and teaching are the things that will make a child successful. But I found it really compelling that what they have shown in the research is that it is the attachments make our children soar. If you think about how a kite works, it is the string that keeps it in the air, not the wind or anything else. It’s a little ironic, because we think that it’s the wind that makes it fly higher, and in some ways it is. But the string is what keeps it up there. The one thing that connects it to the ground, is the one thing that can make it fly the highest it’s ever flown, and do it again and again and again. The tail of a kite is there for extra stability. Some need longer tails than others, but it isn’t really the key to flying. And if you think about it, when a kite starts to falter or wobble or get too close to the ground, there isn’t an experienced kite-flyer that would think that adding a longer or heavier tail, or even cutting it shorter or all the way off, is the solution. No. The solution is to tighten the string, or to strengthen the attachment. Pulling that kite in closer will help to stabilize it and get it back to a point where it can go high again. Isn’t that the same with our kids? More and more discipline isn’t usually the answer. The answer is to draw them closer. Spend time with them. Touch them. Gaze into their eyes and tell them how wonderful they are. Hug them. Go out for an ice cream. Read stories and play catch and race around the yard chasing each other. It might seem too simplistic, but it is so true. More often than not, kids struggle and lash out when they are feeling unstable—when something has shifted in their world, no matter how small, and there is anxiety about it. We are usually the ones that need to shift and see that we are meeting their needs. And please don’t confuse needs with their every whim and desire. These are two very different things. One of the teachers in this class said that one of the homework assignments she gives in her parenting classes is to spend ten minutes a day playing with your child and report about it the next week. She said she has had classes in which one couple in thirty made the time to do it. The other twenty-nine couples said they just didn’t have time. No time to spend ten minutes a day with their child for one week.
Think about it. When is the last time you were having a tough time, and having someone reem you out for not being focused enough or not doing something correctly, or distancing themselves from you helped make you a better employee or better spouse? But what about a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, compassionate service or just encouragement? How often have those things made an impact? And if it's true for you, how much more true is it for a young child who can't process in his mind what exactly his needs are and how they could be met in a way that would make him happier? And so he drowns in his grief and sadness.
We must pull our children near and listen to them. We must love them and help them to love us and others. We must show them affection, laugh with them, dance, play, wrestle and run with them. It’s not just play time. We are forming attachments. We are forming relationships. And ultimately, we are forming who our children are. Don’t tie them down with heavier tails of discipline. As important as discipline is, it is just a thing to help stablize them. Instead, try increasing your love and strengthening your bonds with them (while still being firm, of course) and see if the discipline problems don’t take care of themselves.