Some of her thoughts on discipline:
The system of rewards and punishments does not allow the child to develop self-discipline and self-regulation. The child learns to be externally motivated rather than internally directed.
Discipline revolves around the parent trying to exert their will over the child.
The patterns of behaviour we witnessed in childhood subconsciously become the guidelines by which we parent, if we have not resolved the emotions surrounding them. Dr. Tsbary states "we are in many ways children raising children".
Often times the parent is obsessed with their own agenda and the role that they want their child to play. So much so that there is no space for the child to express their own will and feelings.
Behind every parent's story lies a child who was to some degree denied the development of their authentic self.
So what then...
Let the child experience natural consequences (automatically built into the situation) not ones we as parents impose. ex. if a teen misses the bus then he is late for school; a child pours too much in a glass, it spills and she cleans it up; a child doesn't do their homework and as a result gets a poor grade. Natural consequences teach children about cause and effect. The only time we interfere is when there is a real safety issue - ex. going to run across the street, swallowing something poisonous, or harming themselves or someone else. Unrelated consequences do not make sense to the child and do not teach them about real life - ex. no TV for a week becomes the child did not do his homework - how do the two things relate?
Make sure the child has age appropriate skills for the situation so as not to set him up to fail and then allow them to figure out the rest. This assists him in developing resilience.
Children see how we relate to ourselves and life and pick up on our subconscious messaging - our emotional vibes. "Unless we identify and untangle our emotional patterns, we will unwittingly foster dysfunctional behaviour in our children. All conflict with our children originates with our own internal subconscious conflicts.", says Dr. Tsbary. ex. the parent who turns to food or alcohol as a way to reduce stress - the child learns to handle his emotions in a similar fashion; a mother who fusses over her looks and complains about her weight sends a message to her daughter that looks are equated with self-worth.
If you don't really mean what you say, the child knows it and will push the parents buttons to get what they want. It is important to be clear about what our children need for their emotional development. It is also important that the parent and child knows their reality and what their assets and limitations as a family are. ex. instead of giving into those $300 running shoes, come up with a suitable plan that will show that child that his desires are valid and attainable through partnership, communication and work. Children learn that they are co-creators with the universe when they put their dreams into action.
Our children develop emotional sturdiness when they manage their emotions without the assistance of an external aid. ex. allow them to be bored. Let them experience and self-reflect. Allow them to feel what they are feeling. Validation and empathy provide coping tools based on creativity not discipline. Feelings that are denied have a way of manifesting into aberrant behaviour. ex. nightmares, stomach aches, depression, acting out.
The parent's responsibility is to figure the child out and deal with whoever she wants to be in any given moment - children are not our puppets. They have come to experience life through their own eyes.
Every child holds within them the wisdom required for their own growth. We have to clue into their needs through their behaviour. ex. rolling the eyes, rude words, tantrums, drugs, binge drinking are signs of a child or teen screaming for help.
Connection is the Key:
Create an open space for a child's authentic voice to be heard. Honour their hurt feelings that are behind the behaviour. Consider their needs not ours. What does the child need at this moment to thrive? Honouring a child's feelings is where the connection starts.
W - Witness - observe objectively with no personal agenda- connect with reality just as it is. Make it safe for them to confess their mistakes and admit their weaknesses and still be a good and valued person.
I - inquire - get to know this unique individual- what is meaningful to them.
N - neutrality - a child always responds at the feeling level not the logical level, and picks up on the emotion. Our requests need to be made firmly but kindly and come free of emotional baggage. Emotional pain on the part of the child is expressed through anger, blame toward us or sadness. We must tolerate these emotions in order to help them deal with them.
N - negotiate - Help them exercise power over their own lives. We need to be able to tolerate conflict so we can work with them towards a satisfactory resolution.
E - empathize - Have respect for where people are on their life's journey - despite their pain, people are exactly where they need to be if they are to grow and become empowered. Tolerate anxiety while staying fully present with someone in emotional pain. Don't try to rescue - just listen and aim to direct any discussion back to their own knowing.
R - repeat, rehearse, resolve -Resolve a conflict to a state of completion so their are no emotional remnants left. Resourcefulness - allow children to grow up in an atmosphere where they are honoured for the unique spirits that they are and they learn to trust their inner voice and their inherent capacity for coping with the struggles of life. They are unafraid of feeling sad, lonely or angry. The worth of child does not lie in how others see the child but in the child's own awareness of their uniqueness. Repetition and rehearsal are the most useful tools to help change a behaviour.
Dr. Tsbary goes on to share tips for staying out of the conflict zone or creative ways to execute positive reinforcement. However, my main take away from this very refreshing and liberating read was the following:
We have to accept ourselves and others so that parenting is not about discipline and control but about guidance. We have to model for our children a life of integrity, consistency, purpose and direction.
Dysfunctional behaviour in our children is all about unmet needs. They may have lost touch of who they really are.
Discipline is ultimately a form of manipulation - it focuses on controlling a child's behaviour and keeping them in line based on our own agenda. Instead the emphasis should be on understanding the child and thereby helping them become a person who is self-regulated, empowered and autonomous.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary's latest book Out of Control is very informative and practical. To be human is to be imperfect but as long as we admit our mistakes and are open to new perspectives and insights, allowing our children to be authentic, we will continue towards wholeness and growth as a parent and more importantly as a person.
As in any human relationship - focus on the feeling behind the behaviour for the true story before responding.