When it comes to disciplining and parenting my kids, I always feel a huge pressure which springs from the way I was disciplined growing up on the other side of the world. Yet I have found as a parent, this form of correction and communication does not resonate with me. I have struggled, like so many parents, with the best and healthiest way to discipline and guide my kids.
Going back to my own childhood, I did not like being disciplined in the traditional manner of my culture – which is the main reason I have chosen a different direction with my own children. Growing up, I remember wishing my feelings were validated instead of nullified. I was that kid who would struggle to find the exact words to describe what I was feeling, and would inevitably start crying. And two decades later, I now have a kid who is the same way. Since I always hated the way I was treated under such circumstances, I find myself wrestling with what I need to do with my eldest son.
In theory, a well-disciplined child would be in control of their own emotions. But kids are still learning about self-control and healthy ways to emote. Further, I know from personal experience, having an adult trying to control a child’s emotions tends to push them away. I recall when I had my first son, I thought it would be easy to do things differently. I would pamper him with all the love he needed, and then simply discipline him the exactly opposite way to how I was disciplined. No problem, right?
Well, I was not right. It did not work, I could see that. Because overall, he never seemed to be able to balance his emotions, let alone verbalize how he was feeling. In fact, this is still something we are working on. And honestly? It makes parenting (and life) hard for us as parents, and me especially, as I have to fight my natural instincts to revert to how I was raised by treating my kid how I was treated.
There is a constant internal pull amidst the chaos of raising kids to find a balance within myself between me as a mom and also that small, misunderstood kid of my childhood. I struggle as I seem to put my family through the unnecessary pressure to make things right and doing it all perfectly the first time.
So. How do I do this? How do I discipline and parent my kids in a healthy and safe way?
Thinking back again to my own childhood, I remember having a specific set of standards created by my parents that I was expected to fulfill. Asking kids to unequivocally meet these plans for their betterment can feel incredibly controlling. While this approach did technically work for someone like me (eager to please my parents), the path was very painful and the outcomes were not all pleasant. This resulted in self-doubt, low self-esteem and not being able to believe in myself for fear of disappointing my parents.
On the other hand, while being a permissive parent and allowing kids to participate in all the decision-making can be fruitful, with my own son, it felt like he was taking his independence for granted. This was recently exampled when we went shoe shopping for him. After much speculation we narrowed it down to two shoes, one to his liking and the other to mine. When I tried to allow him the responsibility of actively helping to choose his new shoes, he decided to stand his ground with his choice. Even while recognizing the ones I chose would be a better fit for him. Basically, while the shoes I had chosen were the best option, his choice had lights on them. As we tried to discuss the choice with him, he only gained strength in his conviction, refusing to be respectful by listening to my side.
At that point, I had a choice to make in how to handle this hard situation. Instead of overreacting and defaulting to my own childhood response, I chose patience. I had him wear one of each shoe as he took a walk to see which seemed more comfortable for him. He reluctantly agreed to my choice. But in that moment, I felt a breakthrough in my parenting style in that by taking a moment to meet him where he was at, I was able to help him see WHY I had to make the choice for him in a calm, clear way.
Granted, I cannot always keep this calm wherever I go and in every parenting situation. There have been many days I have slipped out of myself, meaning I have yelled, I had said things that could hurt him. As an adult juggling all the requests, yells, cries, and meltdowns of two kids does not always let me be the kind of parent I intend to be. In these harder moments, I sense the character traits passed through my family heritage being brought out. But I realize it is good I can see this, because then I have the opportunity to take control of myself and parent in a way that better fits our family.
Ultimately I have found that positively disciplining my kids affirms their feelings, shows them love and also tells them their opinions are valued. THEY are valued. No matter the boundaries you set, they will need a place to make mistakes. A well-disciplined kid can learn from their mistakes and put themselves back on the right path. They might not always feel happy about being corrected, but they will eventually realize that the little sacrifices they make today will let them be confident people as they grow and learn.