When I began homeschooling, I immediately discovered that disciplining my children was central to my homeschooling success. If I couldn’t get them to obey me, I couldn’t teach them. Even though I’m a psychologist, I spent a lot of time reading about how to discipline. I’ve learned a lot over the years and I want to share some principles with you that can save you time as a new homeschooler.
Three Parenting Approaches
You may have read that there are three basic approaches to parenting. There is the authoritative approach. This is the most balanced, healthy style. You’re the authority in your child’s life, but you extend plenty of grace. You enjoy your children and they love you as well as respect you. There is also the authoritarian approach. This style takes authority and commands very seriously. Swift obedience is valued above relationship. Demands for obedience are often accompanied by anger and harsh punishments for failure to comply. This approach can lead to children who obey outwardly but inwardly burn with resentment. The authoritarian approach puts parental demands above the child’s needs. Finally, there is the passive approach. The passive approach also puts the parent’s needs ahead of the child’s. In this style, the parent does not demand obedience or respect because discipline is too much work. The parent doesn’t provide consequences for misbehavior. The child feels unloved and is ill equipped to function in a society with other authority figures.
I doubt that you would put yourself squarely in either of the latter two categories. Instead, most of us see ourselves as authoritative parents. However, when we are under stress, tired, or overwhelmed, we will tend to revert to one of the less functional parenting approaches or both.
How We Can Use a Functional Parenting Approach Even Under Stress
The key to being a positive parent even when we’re hangry, wiped out, or PMSing is to plan ahead. We need to know our triggers and have a response ready.
Which misbehaviors get to you the most? Is it acting out in a public place? Is it not picking up after you’ve asked? Is it fighting? Make note of these.
Then consider which situations lead you to revert to an authoritarian or passive style. Is it when you’re short on sleep? When you’ve had no time away from the kids? When you’re running late? You’ll also want to make note of these situations.
First, decide with your spouse (if you’re married) what your family rules are. It’s a good idea to have your rules posted and to review them with your children regularly. Next, decide which consequences you will use for violations of these rules. Consider these.
- Spanking. This is most effective for outright defiance or blatant disrespect in young children. However, avoid physical punishment if you are prone to anger OR if you have a child prone to anger. There are other forms of discipline that are more effective in this case.
- Scary persona. Giving your child the eagle eye or using a certain tone of voice is enough to correct misbehavior with some children in some situations.
- Privilege levels. You can keep track of the level of privileges your child is using a cork board and a pin, for example. This system requires an understood and achievable means for a child to return to higher privilege level. Using this approach with multiple children can be challenging.
- Refuse requests. As described in How to Have a New Kid by Friday by Kevin Leman, refuse to comply with your child’s next request after misbehavior. For example, “You may not have a snack.” “Why?” “Because you wouldn’t come inside when I called you.” The advantage of this approach is it requires no pre-planning and can be very effective.
- Guided obedience. When young children refuse or are slow to pick up toys or go up to bed, guide them with your hands (without anger) until they are complying on their own. Thank them for obeying, even though you are providing the guidance.
- Time out. Putting a child in a place where there is no opportunity for reinforcement (no access to toys, books, or interaction with others) for one minute for each year of their age is an effective strategy for many children. The same can be done with a toy that isn’t being used properly or is being fought over.
- Put fighting children in close quarters. Insist that siblings who are fighting stay in a small room (like a bathroom) until they can stop quarreling. Insisting that the squabblers wear a single large shirt, hug, or hold hands until they stop serves the same purpose.
- Fines. If you give your children an allowance or earnings for chores, you can discipline misbehavior with a fine. Keeping track of your child’s money on an app on your phone makes it easy to fine wherever you are.
- Confinement. A young child who doesn’t like to be restricted can be seated in your lap with his back to you. Firmly hold his right arm with your left hand and vice versa for a minute for each year of age. Do not speak to your child after explaining what the misbehavior was, but require him to remain in your lap.
Make note of which approach you will be using. The simpler the better.
The final step in avoiding an unhealthy parenting style is to prevent the situations that lead you to adopt them. If you know lack of sleep is a problem, make sleep a priority. If your sleep deficit is unavoidable, avoid other stressors that will put you over the edge. Get a nap. Tell your children that you’re especially tired and need their help and definitely ask another adult to help you. Eliminate activities that contribute to stress and plan ahead so you can be at your best. Lay out shoes the night before and leave earlier than you need to for actiities. Review the rules with your children before you go to public places. For example, “If you beg for something in the store, we will leave immediately.” Then follow through.
Improving your parenting approach is a lifetime activity. Give yourself lots of grace for making mistakes! Pray, read Scripture, and talk to other parents about their struggles. You’ll find you’re in good company. But any effort you make to improve your parenting approach will pay off in improving your homeschool.
Which parenting approach do you revert to when you’re stressed? What misbehaviors are most likely to lead to that? What discipline strategy would you like to try going forward? Comment and let me know.