Two styles: One goal

I’ve written briefly before about how difficult I find it to discipline my oldest son. He’s creeping up on 4 years and we’re really just starting to navigate this parenting skill. We’ve had some minor successes, but for the most part I feel as though I’m floundering. I read books, refer to websites, discuss with friends and family, and still I struggle to find methods that work for us.

Generally speaking, my son is quite well-behaved. For example, yesterday we spent the morning at a local bookstore/coffee shop with one of my girlfriends. It wasn’t how we planned it, he was supposed to go on an errand with his father. But he loves this place, and when they tried to drop me off, he insisted on staying. We could have held firm and given him no choice, but I decided it wasn’t worth the battle. I set some ground rules. He would have to sit close and behave. I made it clear that I wouldn’t be playing, because I would be visiting with my friend. I was skeptical that he would behave, but he actually did very well. He was patient, quiet, cheery, well-behaved. I really couldn’t have asked for better. I was grateful, proud and relieved that I didn’t have to manage a difficult situation in public.

My husband and I have two very different styles of discipline. I’m the more libertarian parent. I’m easy-going, pick my battles, and less willing to say no without good reason. My husband, by contrast, is firm, consistent and willing to fight all battles. In general, I would argue that he has less patience and reacts more immediately to inappropriate behaviours than I do.

While, our approach on discipline is very different, our goal is very much the same. We want to raise our children to be confident, happy, and have self-control. We hope they’ll be respectful of others, kind and generous. Because we have these common goals and values, I try to remind myself that it’s okay for us to manage our children differently. The key, as they say, is to have consistent rules and expectations. If we agree on our expectations, how we enforce them isn’t as consequential. Or is it?

I subscribe to the positive parenting school of thought. Discipline is about teaching and guiding children so that they learn from their actions and mistakes and can react more appropriately the next time. I don’t think parents just get lucky with well-behaved children. I think it comes from hard work and modelling good behaviour. I think it also comes from recognizing triggers and eliminating them wherever possible. It’s about planning and responding to situations in a calm, rational way. All this, I absolutely believe to be true. The problem is, it’s easier for me to write about these beliefs than it is to implement them in real-life situations. It’s a lot more difficult to think rationally and positively when faced with a tantruming 3-year-old.

To my husband, it’s much more black and white. Our son is either behaving or he isn’t. He’s allowed one warning. If he doesn’t heed the warning and alter his behaviour, the only appropriate response is some form of discipline. For now, that often means a few moments in his room to chill and regain control.

As our son gets older and we face the same situations over and over, I’m starting to recognize the value in my husband’s approach. I’ve tried reasoning with my son, obviously this is futile with a 3-year-old. I’ve tried re-direction. This DOES NOT work in the heat of the moment. I recognize the triggers, but they can’t always be avoided. For example, dinner time is a common trigger. More often than not dinner includes tears, arguments, and willfulness. I cannot avoid dinner. I can re-evaluate how we do dinner, but there is only so much flexibility.

I think my challenges come from my desire to provide my son with opportunities to exercise his own free will. There is a balance to be found that I’m still exploring. Just as he’s testing his limits, I’m also exploring my own boundaries as a parent. What am I comfortable with and what am I not? As he gets older, my tolerance for certain behaviours is diminishing. I recognize that my husband ‘s approach may appear unyielding and autocratic, but in fact he’s setting limits for my son that are clear and achievable. With my husband he knows where he stands. With me he’s not so sure, so he continues to test, push and search for them. It’s time I provide clear expectations and enforcement. It’s my job to be the parent.

What is your approach to discipline? Do you struggles with setting and maintaing boundaries in your home? What would you do differently if you could?

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