Our Favorite Discipline Guides
This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link.
Always a believer in teaching our children how to function as adults in this crazy world, I latched on to discipline guides early in my parenting journey. Whether it was Love and Logic or 1, 2, 3 Magic or The Happiest Toddler on the Block, I clung to each with white knuckles for the structure they brought to my newly chaotic life.
As my girls have grown, and we added new temperaments to the mix, I have found Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline and How to Talk so Kids will Listen gives my family a great foundation for parenting with structure and love.
“Children need boundaries!” I can still hear my mother’s words to me when I was babysitting for other families growing up. “You can’t just have fun all the time!”
When our first-born came out a bit strong-willed, I ravenously poured through the data. At the time, natural, or logical, consequences were gaining in popularity, and I jumped right on board. It was simple enough; the child does something that they shouldn’t, and the universe has a way of showing them that their behavior is not going to cut it.
Becky Bailey, the author of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, puts it so well:
“Disappointment, embarrassment, sadness, and frustration are all signals. The signal is “Pay attention and make different choices.” If we ignore our feelings or project them onto others, we will continue making the same poor choices and blaming others. Allowing your children to feel the feelings associated with their choices is a critical part of teaching responsibility.” (p. 200).
Fast-forward about eight years, and I still rely pretty heavily on natural consequences for parenting our girls. It is a straightforward philosophy that makes me sound like less of a broken record. I can give an instruction to the girls (“You need to pack a sandwich, water, fruit, and cheese for your lunch”), and if that’s not followed, the natural consequence is that they are hungry.
When they complain, I can point out that if they had packed what I suggested, they might not be crabby and not able to pay attention in class. The hunger seems to stick in their memory much longer than the incessant, nagging background noise in their lives, also known as their mother’s voice.
Win one for natural consequences! You could extend this philosophy to forgetting your hat when it snows (you are cold), leaving a library book on your bed (you pay the fine), or not bringing your cleats in out of the rain (you are the kid whose shoes smell). I do draw the line before my kids will come to any physical harm, lest anyone think they are out floundering in the world with just one simple instruction from their mother, who is at home sitting on her high horse.
But then everyone gets tired…
Towards the end of the school year, we start to struggle. I struggle with keeping up the momentum of having life organized and enriching. My children struggle with caring about anything other than doing exactly what they want to do, when they want to do it. We all struggle to find the energy not to snap at each other, especially while a certain kindergartner’s eyes seem to be permanently lodged in a rolling position, and a third grader scoffs every time her mother dares to breathe.
After a particularly challenging evening, when their father was traveling, school projects were due, and we were all at soccer practice for far too long, the opportunity arose to allow natural consequences to run their course. My oldest, a perfectionist people-pleaser through and through, woke up on Friday morning to the alarm that she had not finished her homework. Despite the fact that she swore to me it was packed in her backpack before she turned on another terrible episode of Jessie, the early morning light proved that this was not the case.
She looked at me, completely panicked. “Can you drive me to school so I can finish it here?” That was a resounding no, since waking up her baby sister was not an option after a night already interrupted with teething. As I watched her continue to spiral, I thought, ever so haughtily, how this was going to be a great opportunity to give a rousing sermon on natural consequences.
See, sweet child, when you don’t follow the rules, you only hurt yourself. Now, you are faced with those uncomfortable, anxious feelings you get when you haven’t done something you are supposed to. You won’t get the good grade you are hoping for. And maybe, in the future, you will remember these uncomfortable feelings and FOLLOW THE RULES!
I guess I was feeling especially proud this morning, so I pulled out my lifeline, also known as my Erin Condren day planner. I live and breathe by this, never daring to forget to write down an important event or responsibility for our busy family. My planner is my safety net, allowing me not to rely on my brain to remember things, since that was long gone once the first test turned positive.
I brought my planner over to my oldest, who was still spiraling, and pointed to that day. “See, sweetie, I don’t like having these anxious feelings either. I know you want to do well and be successful in school. I have put a good organization system in place that works well for me…”
And that’s when I saw it, plain as day, right in the middle of my Friday. Bake 3 dozen allergen-free brownies and deliver them to the school office for the Fun Fair. I had received countless reminders for this responsibility this week, written all over my blessed planner, but had completely blanked on it until that moment.
Insert your favorite four-letter word here. They were all running through my head.
A Lesson in Humility
As my oldest continued to stare at me, my mind raced with how in the world to get this accomplished. The day was packed, and I wasn’t going to be at home. I had speech therapy and meetings and a class to teach. Nowhere in there was any time for me to be Betty Crocker in the kitchen.
Right in the middle of my vain attempts to let the universe teach my daughter a lesson, natural consequences came back to bite me. I made the exact same mistake as my daughter, since I could have easily baked brownies the night before. Though allergen-free treats certainly aren’t the end of the world, and many other options exist, the uncomfortable, anxious feelings belonged to all of us in my kitchen that morning. No one likes to make mistakes, but making them on display, in front of your impressionable children, particularly when you are trying to have a teachable moment, stings more than the rest.
I relied on our village that day, which filled in for my lack of planning, so the brownies were taken care of. The tougher moment, for me, came later, when I confessed my mistake to my daughter.
Bless her sweet heart; she gave me so much grace. This is grace that I need to extend, each and every day, both to my children and myself. And I realized, in the chaos of that morning, that what matters so much more than homework completed or lessons learned or baked goods delivered, is that my daughter saw me as human: a perfectly fallible person, totally in need of grace.
And, while it might have taken me off my high horse, it reinforced that we will all fall short in this broken world. Attempting to attain perfection is impossible, and it is much more important to give our children the gift of learning to pick themselves up when they have made a mistake, and to learn that they can’t do it all on their own.
In the moments when I catch myself climbing back into the saddle of my high horse, I pause, smile at my girls, and offer the tools to troubleshoot the problem of the morning, often with an example of how their dear old mother messed this up too.