As a child, I was raised in a “children should be seen and not heard” culture, and most of the talking was of the lecture sort, made by a parent, after I’d made my mistake. I was often not permitted to have input. It is very difficult to know what’s expected of you if you’ve never been told. I often felt frustrated and invalidated and it left me socially awkward and uncomfortable and more likely to make further mistakes.
As part of leaving this paradigm behind, embracing attachment parenting, and knowing that children understand things long before they can speak, it was important to me to start conversing with my children immediately and I likely appeared pretty odd as I explained to a newborn why I was buying a particular brand of Canadian grown mushrooms.
As I wore them close to me, I continued to carry on a running commentary with them and eventually, as they got older, they started to talk back to me so that we constantly chatted. It became habit. Taking a proactive and gentle approach to discipline was important to me and it felt natural that we should talk about everything and anything that came up and often the topics that related to behaviour came up even if the behaviour wasn’t being exhibited by the child (or parent) in the moment.
I realised early on that this was a very powerful discipline technique. Several times conversations we’ve had on topics have led to amazing behaviour decisions by my children. Even further, it’s led them to become little advisors themselves!
We went to a birthday party on the weekend and a great example of this was exhibited by one of my children. One topic we’ve talked about a lot in our family is hate. I have talked to the children about it frequently and how it’s a negative emotion and that in all my entire life I’ve never actually truly hated anyone. We’ve discussed it in the context of racism, of being hurt and we’ve also talked about how it’s overused as a word. In our house it’s a bad word and they know it can be hurtful to tell someone that you hate them.
On a drive home from the party, as was our habit, I was talking to them about the day. My six year old was telling me that one child told the other that she “hated him” after she took his toy. I asked my daughter what she thought of that and she replied that she’d told the little girl that “hate is a very strong word.”
Stifling a chuckle I asked her what the other child had said and she replied “she agreed.”
This sort of understanding comes directly from conversation. My barely six year old daughter was able to, after several conversations on the subject, none recent, apply the information given to her on the topic. She was able to advise another child confidently of a different way of seeing things and I was very proud of her for doing so. Discipline is not simply finding a way to stifle negative behaviour; it’s providing children with the ideals we want them to embrace in life. And conversation, not lecturing, is key to them knowing how we feel about issues and concerns.
Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had in my life have been with my children. They have insights that come from a different perspective. the messages you give them early on will hopefully have an impact on the decisions they make when you’re not in the room. The added benefit is the time spent talking to your child and, even more important, the time spent listening to what they have to say as well.
Carolyn Parsons is married to Kent Chaffey, has four daughters and is also a writer who blogs at BreezeDaze