Stop it. Just stop it.
I was hanging out with some toddlers yesterday in a nursery and one kid was simply a terror from the time he arrived. He was picking on a few kids, crying, refusing to listen to dear Mrs. Charlotte–the nursery leader. Mrs. Charlotte is the gentlest soul on the planet, by the way. She finally asked me to call his mom. I did. She came. He went. Later he came back and apologized to Mrs. Charlotte and the other children.
Now. It never occurred to me to judge the mama for her kid’s behavior. I can think of a million reasons which have nothing to do with how he is parented to explain why he was behaving that way. The number one reason: he was THREE.
Did you know that a child’s critical faculty is not fully developed until age 6 or 7? The critical faculty is the part of the conscious brain which judges, analyzes, and evaluates what people say. In many ways, this helps us understand a child’s behavior. They are not fully socialized yet. Every outing or interaction is practice for them. And in a very important way, this underdeveloped critical faculty emphasizes how words we say TO children may be absorbed by them. They do not have the ability to filter messages yet. Every word they hear is internalized. A label or a hateful word plants deeply.
Kids are different. Or haven’t you noticed? Some are mellow, some shy. Some like to please. Some are spirited. Talkative. Energetic. Some have special needs, sensory issues. Some react behaviorally to certain foods. Some are loud. Some have no fear. Some are slow-to-warm-up. Some are skeptical. Grumpy. Easy-going. Extroverted.
Parents are different. Some are routine-oriented. Some are strict. Some are scattered. Messy. Neat. Some yell. Some hit. Some use timers and charts. Some love to cuddle. Play. Talk. Some worry about what people think. Some read parenting books. Some do what their parents did. Some get embarrassed by their kids. Some helicopter. Some free-range.
ALL of us worry about whether we’re doing it *right.*
When someone judges our parenting, it hits that core fear–are we doing it right? I apparently make an easy target. I’m pretty open about my struggles with the girls and I also talk/blog about my choice to use gentle discipline. It is gloriously easy for another mama to dismiss gentle discipline by pointing out certain behaviors in my girls. Please. Smarter people than me choose gentle discipline. They even write books. If you have a problem, take it up with the experts.
Let me make it clear, then.
Obedience is not my primary goal in discipline. Obedience is wonderful. I want my kids to obey. But that is not the FIRST thing I’m working on. I don’t want to merely correct a behavior. I want to disciple my children in such a way that they CHOOSE the right behavior to begin with. Discipling takes time. It works slowly. Its primary tool is relationship.
Jesus was perfect. And yet his disciples were denying him and betraying him and cutting off ears after several years of close relationship. Probably not the behavior he was looking for.
I am not perfect. My children tantrum and whine. They get bossy and impolite. They have many behaviors I’m not looking for. But I don’t want quick fixes. I don’t want them to do things “because I said so.” I don’t want pushovers who will become pressured teens and railroaded adults. I want strong, emotionally healthy children. And if that means, they sometimes want to know the reason I say “no” and everything is up for debate–so be it. I can live with that.
gossipy concerned mom at the playgroup: if it appears my children are unruly, if it appears I’m not time-outting/spanking/fill-in-the-blanking to your satisfaction, please understand that I am working on the behavior. In ways you don’t witness. I’ve learned that with my kids, discipline works best when they are calm. Not when they are in the middle of a tantrum and not when they are angry. Besides, they are my children…not yours.
I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. Parenting is hard. It doesn’t matter how you discipline. It is hard. I’m doing my best and doing what feels right for my family. I know you’re doing the same. Because we all love our kids and want them to become healthy adults.
Let’s please play nice and give each other grace.