Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Discipline. Revisited.

As with everything, an intense period is just that. An Intense Period.

It's been quite a month. Opal has been impressively committed to flexing her oppositional toddler muscles, especially while Jesse was away. I needed to set limits with her that matched her determined efforts and yet those limits were hardly making a scratch on the skin of the situation. Then she also happened to catch cold #112 and, though I wanted to cut her some slack and be extra nourishing, I didn't want to stray too far from providing adequate discipline.
All this creates a mama who is stone-tired.

But she has since relaxed a bit and got healthy in a flash. I have since toughened a bit and Jesse's been home for weeks. Things, I am pleased to report, have lightened up immensely.

In those first few wearisome weeks of the month, I dove into my parenting books (Parenting with Love and Logic, The Discipline Book by Dr. Sears, to name a few) to find some precious nugget of advice that would help me shift the weight somewhat, some technique I'd been overlooking that Opal would gladly respond to. Clear communication, consequences, nothing felt particularly helpful.

It wasn't until recently that I stumbled on some passages in Chapter 1 of The Discipline Book. I'd been skipping ahead to chapters like "Taming Temper Tantrums"and though I'd had the book for months, this was the first time I had actually taken the time to read the beginning.

After summing up the current most popular styles of discipline—the Authoritarian, Communication and Behavior Modification approaches—the book went on to discuss the Attachment Approach to discipline.

Parents who rely on any of the three above approaches to solve a discipline problem may find that their child's behavior improves, but only temporarily. Without a secure grounding in parent-child attachment, the other discipline approaches are merely borrowed skills, communication gimmicks, techniques that are grabbed from the rack and tried on in hopes of a good fit.

...With a firm grounding in a connected relationship, a parent can use the other three approaches to discipline (authority, communication and behavior modification) in a balanced way...but when these techniques don't work, you need to fall back on a deeper understanding of your child.

Eureka. This was what I had been waiting to hear.

Opal's misbehavior was not nearly as distressing as feeling like I'd been using one technique after another, rather blindly, naively, with no success. I had been so focused on making the behavior better somehow and was feeling somewhat disconnected from her in the process of attempting to achieve that end.

So I took those words as a cue to back off a bit. I also started applying much more energy to tuning into the moment before taking action if an action is needed. What is happening here? What is behind this meltdown? I had become quite the quick-draw.

Since I read that passage, there have been a few more nights like the one mentioned in the previous blog, where Opal wants her mama to get up with her during the night. A part of me certainly is still concerned that I am "training" her to need her mama to rock her to sleep, after all these months of helping her to learn to sooth herself. And granted, there are times when it is more than appropriate to allow her to cry for 10 minutes before going in (when that crying is a tired-cry and not a help-me-cry), times when it feels right to toughen up a bit after she suggests the 3rd dozenth stalling object and it's clearly all a game to her.

But there have also been a handful of times where—all rules, techniques and future concerns aside—it just feels right to rock her for 20 minutes in the middle of the night even if she's not sick and in her own cozy, splendid room. And that's for damn sure what I'm gonna do.

Here's the kicker: I find that I am much less tired—rejuvenated, even—when I am able to make decisions based on the temperature of the present moment and the voice of my loving intuition versus the voice of a set-list of rules. Parenting or not. Now, I'm not suggesting an increase in softness; I am suggesting an increase in awareness.

How interesting to discover that my ability to cope with Opal's strong will and the tricky, thorny, more baffling moments hinges much more on this fact than on whether or not she chooses to behave.

Again, Eureka.

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