She radiated defiance. Her body language – from the tightened mouth, to the crossed arms, to the
feet rooted in one spot – indicated she was preparing for battle. The moment she tossed her pajamas in frustration, my first reaction was to demand she pick them up and provide a swift consequence if she failed to obey.
Then I distanced myself from the situation for a moment, pausing to decide what to do next. I could see the same scene playing out many times in our past and many times in the future with the same results: frustration, a battle of wills, angry words, and dissatisfaction on both sides.
I took a deep breath and remembered, “Decide what you will do, not what you will make your children do.” (1) With this in mind, I looked at my daughter and explained what I would do, saying “It is 7:45. I am only participating in bedtime until 8:00. So, there is 15 more minutes left until I will be finished with bedtime for the evening.”
Our family has an established routine for bedtime, where kids put on pajamas, brush teeth, and go to the bathroom, followed by family prayer, then individual story time. Each child looks forward to their one on one story time, but they sometimes struggle with the steps leading up to stories. In the past, we’ve even used story time as leverage or a bribe to keep them on task at bedtime, we’ve reminded, we’ve scolded, and we’ve felt frustrated. I wanted bedtime to be a time of calm and closeness.
She looked at me inquiringly, then picked up her pajamas, and proceeded to finish getting ready for bed. No more arguments about the pajamas (We hadn’t yet unpacked other pj options from an extended summer from home), no battle of wills, no arguments. I didn’t try to persuade her or force her. Instead, I decided what I would do and accepted that she would experience natural consequences that came from my decision.
A part of me felt amazed that this worked, while another intuitively felt it made sense. And, while it had the immediate outcome I hoped for in this example, I had to take this step knowing it might not. Taking this step is only one piece of adopting Positive Discipline techniques. I had to be willing to “be unconcerned with what the children do in these situations,” as author Jane Nelson puts it. So, if my daughter decided to forgo bedtime or move forward in attempts at a power struggle, I would need to kindly and firmly hold my ground and remain clear about what I would and would not do, focusing on long-term results over short-term fixes.
This is just one part of my goal to incorporate the techniques learned from Jane Nelson’s Positive Discipline. I am still working on understanding what techniques are best for different situations, but I have noticed important, positive changes in my family in just a couple of weeks.
I plan to continue to share my experiences with Positive Discipline by using The Positive Discipline Parenting Tools cards. These handy cards provide 52 concrete ways to improve your parent skills. I’ll even be giving away a set in the coming weeks, along with a Positive Discipline book!
How has focusing on long-term outcomes, rather than short term consequences, helped you as a parent?