Discipline: the Self-Quieting Approach
Just in case no one’s told you, I’ll say it now: a Reward and Punishment approach to discipline does not work.
In your heart you probably know this already. It explains why you have to correct your child constantly for the same behavior, asking yourself each time, “What am I doing wrong?”
Let’s start with one strategy that, although well-intentioned, has been misused and distorted into just another form of punishment. It’s that old classic, Time Out.
The problem with Time Out is that too often the child is actually being sent away because you are angry. What he hears you saying is not, “Time to think about what you’ve done,” but “I don’t like you now and I don’t want you around.” How many adults would profit from being told, “Go to your room for ten minutes!”
To make things worse, you control the time when he can return. That is, he’s not coming back when he’s truly ready but coming out when you say he can. How does that teach self-control? It leaves the child angry and resentful, not calmed. All he has learned by the experience is that you don’t want him around. And certainly no deep thinking is going on when a child is constantly asking, “Can I come out now?”
The approach I like is called “Self-Quieting.” It results in a peaceful state of mind in which emotions can be worked through and solutions to the problem found. The child learns that controlling others does not resolve conflict, but that he can achieve success by looking within. And best of all, you get to set an example that you will be delighted to have him learn from.
To begin, both you and your child need to set up places where each of you can go when you need to regroup. The area should be pleasant and comforting. For the child, perhaps a spot in his own room, a rocking chair, a beanbag chair, or in the kitchen where it’s warm, or even outside, where he can quiet down and work through feelings all by himself. It might be by doing something (hammering nails into a stump, kicking a ball, going for a run), or it might be by sitting down and doing nothing.
For you, the quieting space could be a window with a view, your needlepoint, an airy room with quiet music – any uncluttered, peaceful place for you alone. Each of you should plan and create this space for yourself.
The next step is modeling for the child. The first few times you may have to go with him. If he’s old enough, you may put up a sign nearby with three questions as a reminder:
1. What’s the problem?
2. What’s my part in the problem?
3. What is one thing I can do to improve the situation?
How it’s Done
Here’s what you do: get down on your child’s level. Look into his eyes, and say calmly and lovingly, “It looks like you need a break. Go to your self-quieting place. Come back when you’re calm and ready to move on or resolve the problem.”
Say this only once. That shows respect for him – and for yourself as well. If he doesn’t leave, pick him up or lead him — gently and lovingly.
If he comes back and acts appropriately, let him stay. If not, take, him to his space — still gently and lovingly — without saying a word. You may have to do this several times. Be patient. Be persistent. Don’t say, “Come back in five minutes.” That would be taking control of when he’s ready to return, which doesn’t work — and can backfire.
Some families will want to use a signal or specific word to give notice that self-quieting is needed. But the child’s space must be a happy place, a place where he can collect his thoughts and regain composure and from which he can return cheerfully and peacefully – not as a wrongdoer who’s finally shaped up. Can you see the difference between this and Time Out? The idea is the same, but the emphasis is on thought, not just on time. Try the approach for a week, and you’ll see how handling conflict positively can change the atmosphere in your home.
But where does your own self-quieting place come in? If you’re working with a child whose goal is power or revenge and who simply refuses to go to his self-quieting place, you go to your own. Don’t give him the power struggle he expects, just tell him you’ll be back when you are ready.
Although at first this method may seem time consuming, remember this principle: take the time to teach now, and you won’t have to teach the same thing again later. This is a wise investment of your time and energy, as well as a good exercise in self-control for the adult. The payoff in terms of self-respect and family harmony, not to mention the development of problem-solving skills, is tremendous. You are teaching conflict resolution skills that will last a lifetime.
Make it your goal to bring peace to the conflict. Do this from a position of strength and purpose, not anger. Remember, peace begins within each home.