Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reality Discipline

Looking for a challenge in life?  Here's one:  get yourself put in charge of helping one or more young humans grow up to live meaningful lives and be responsible, confident, stable, able contributors to society and culture.  Oh wait, that's called parenting!

It is a challenge, isn't it?  Certainly one of the most challenging elements in our parenting is discipline: babies just do not arrive knowing right from wrong, how to respect others, how to share, how to wait patiently, how to develop purpose and vision for a meaningful life - in fact, it can be safely said that babies arrive and begin to grow up with a firm two-part belief system: "it's all about me," and, "I want it now!"  So inevitably parents are challenged by the need to discipline in the finest sense of the word:  to disciple, to instruct, to guide, to correct, and to challenge our children that the best things in life usually require diligent effort and perseverance to achieve.

So the need to discipline is obvious, but how do we do it?  What approaches and methods are effective? What discipline contributes to abundant life in our kids, and what kind of discipline mistakes should we avoid that might tear them down?  We should admit right now that this subject is way too big for just one article, so our purpose here is to provide some overview and a beginning collection of links to help our thinking as parents.

Discipline does not occur as a separate element apart from other elements of being parents; in fact, it is essential that we recognize the integral nature of our discipline practices within the overall context of our parenting.  Parents who are concerned with their effectiveness are probably working at developing at least the following essentials:
  • Parents view their roles as Moms and Dads as one of the most important roles of all. Parenting is not an "after-thought" that happens in the leftover bits of time found here and there, but is an integral, cherished, and vitally important part of who I am as an adult with children.  
  • Parents have a vision: they are aiming to help their children develop a particular set of ethics, a particular kind of vision, a particular understanding of what makes for an abundant life.  From a Biblical perspective, this would include teaching our children Biblical morality, emphasizing the importance of loving God and caring for our neighbors, deferring to others, sharing our resources generously, being good stewards of our time and our abilities, viewing the world and all it contains as God's, and developing a vision for life that is bigger than our own narrow desires.
  • Parents make developing an affirming relationship with each child a bigger priority than correction.  There is an acute awareness that rules without relationship leads to ruin. Parents invest in being students of their children:  what unique elements of God's image does each child bear? What talents have they been given?  What interests? What abilities? What enthusiasms? 
  • Parents work at developing a strong sense of family identity.  What does it mean to be a "Smith"?  What common ground does each member of the family share with others?  In addition to studying each child, parents are studying the family as a whole: where are we healthy?  Where do we need to develop more?  What kind of family are we becoming?
  • Parents make it a priority and a privilege to enjoy their children and and their family life.

As parents continue to develop  healthy foundations, discipline becomes easier and more natural, and specific techniques can be used to great advantage with each child.  In his book, Have a New Kid by Friday, psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman recommends an approach he calls "Reality Discipline."  Others have labeled similar ideas "natural consequences." The basic premise is simply that the world in which our children are growing up has real consequences for wrong and selfish actions and attitudes.  Employers do not retain employees who cannot be trusted, or who are lazy.  Relationships are troubled when people are selfish, or fail to tell the truth, or try to manipulate to get their way. Difficulties multiply for those who are motivated by greed or misplaced ambition.  Those with a lack of concern for the well-being of others who violate other persons or their property are imprisoned.  In short, God has made the world and we humans to function in certain ways that lead to health and well-being for our communities, and when we fail to function in that manner, we experience the consequences.

"Reality Discipline" features some specific ideas and techniques, but centers around the thought that parents should allow their children to simply experience real-life (or similar and appropriate) consequences for their actions.  Reality Discipline helps parents avoid threatening, yelling, or manipulating.  It does not require a battle of the wits, though it does sometimes require quick thinking and creativity.  It also has the advantage of linking to and teaching about real life.

Disciplining our children well is a big subject, with many books and articles "out there." Here are some links for further thought on "Reality Discipline" and some related ideas:
  • To get some more insight into Reality Discipline, click here for a series of articles from Focus on the Family that give an overview of Dr. Leman's book and some ideas for implementation in your family.  
  • To learn more about Dr. Leman, or to acquire your own copy of the book, click here.  
  • For a free video series on YouTube featuring Dr. Leman, click here.  
  • For a short personal example of how natural consequences proved effective in our family, and for some Scriptures connected to parenting, click here
  • For some creative thoughts on the application of natural consequences and ideas from other moms, click here. (This site, Not Consumed, also features a number of articles and perspectives from single parents.)
  • For some ideas oriented toward different ages, and some perspective on guarding against unsafe natural consequences, see the Search Institute's Parent Further website here.

As you can see, there is an abundance of readily available help from Scripture, from fellow parents on the journey, and from professionals for thinking about how to structure our discipline so that the corrective and guiding part of our work as parents contributes to our joy and to our children's well-being.   Each of our families is different, each child is different, and we each need wisdom as parents to do the task well.  What a blessing for us that when we need wisdom, we can ask - "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."  (James 1:5, NIV)  Here's to joyful parenting, discipline and all!

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