By Julie Baumgardner
Your child reaches for a candy bar at the checkout counter and you tell him, “No.” He proceeds to throw a tantrum. Do you – plead with him to stop, step over him and walk away or buy him the candy bar so he will stop embarrassing you in public?
Your child looks at you with disgust, rolls her eyes and says, “You can’t tell me what to do” and turns on the television to tune you out. Do you – send her to her room, leave the room for a minute to get yourself together in preparation for dealing with the situation, or ignore the behavior?
It is 7:00 a.m. You go in to wake your son for the third time. He growls at you and refuses to get up. Do you – go in and physically get him out of the bed, turn up the radio so loud he can’t possible sleep through it or remove yourself from the situation and let him sleep?
If you are a parent, you have probably encountered at least one of these situations and have been confused about the best way to discipline your children.
According to Dr. Kevin Leman, author and parenting expert, we have arrived at a place in history where American families have become child-centered. American parents have become permissive and democratic and American children have become spoiled, sassy and out of control. In response to each of the situations above, Dr. Leman would say that all of these children need a healthy dose of “reality discipline.”
Many of today’s popular sitcoms and commercials portray children in adult roles with little respect for their parents. The parents on the other hand are shown as ignorant, out of touch with the culture, dumb and not smart enough to raise a child. Innocent and comical as it may appear, this role reversal seems to encourage children to be disrespectful to their parents and other adults, discounting their authority and understanding about life issues.
If a child wants to do something and their parents say no, they just sneak around their backs and do it anyway. Instead of earning money to buy new shoes, many teens believe their parents should foot the bill. The idea of doing chores around the house without being paid is often referred to by many young people as unfair and beyond the call of duty.
Dr. Leman believes that allowing young people to operate in this manner is not preparing them for the real world.
“There are certain realities by which children are going to have to live their adult lives,” said Dr. Leman. “The sooner we, as parents, start teaching what I refer to as the rules of the game the better.”
Six Rules to Raise Your Children By
Rule One: You’re never going to be the center of everyone’s attention—not for long at least. This means that children should not be the center of attention in their families. Parents should be the center of attention.
Rule Two: Everyone must obey a higher authority. Therefore, parents should expect children to obey, not hope that they will obey.
Rule Three: Everyone is expected to be a contributing member of society. Too many children constantly take from their families without ever giving back. Dr. Leman suggests parents ask themselves if their children are ever expected to perform routine chores around the home for which they are not paid. The only acceptable answer is yes.
Rule Four: Everyone is responsible for his or her own behavior. A child who does something bad ought to feel bad about it. Too often parents feel bad when a child does something wrong. Why should a child accept responsibility for his own behavior if someone else does it for him?
Rule Five: You can’t always get what you want and what you do get, you get by working and waiting. Children should receive the things they need and a conservative amount of the things they want. More children need to hear the word “No!”
Rule Six: You experience happiness, which is the elixir of success, in direct proportion to how sensitive to and considerate you are of others. Self-centeredness and unhappiness go hand in hand.
Applying the Six Rules Using Reality Discipline
Although most parents can see value in raising their children by these rules, the real challenge comes in trying to put them into action. In his book, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, Dr. Leman gives parents specific ways to use their authority correctly as they bring up obedient children with loving discipline. It is called reality discipline.
The key to reality discipline lies in the answers to these three questions:
- How do I love my children?
- How do I respect my children?
- How do I hold my children accountable?
“In order for reality discipline to work the first thing that must happen is the child must feel loved,” said Dr. Leman. “Reality discipline uses guidance and action-oriented techniques. Action-oriented discipline is based on the reality that there are times when you have to pull the rug out and let the little buzzards tumble. I mean disciplining your children in such a way that he/she accepts responsibility and learns accountability for his actions. Children expect adults to discipline them. If the discipline is loving, it will be geared toward instruction, teaching and guiding.”
Finding A Middle Ground
It takes time to raise a child to be a responsible citizen. Dr. Leman believes there are far too many households in America where children do not feel loved. Many parents have either chosen to parent from an authoritarian or permissive stance. The authoritarian parent: makes all decisions for the child, uses reward and punishment to control
their child’s behavior, sees himself as better than the child and runs the home with an iron hand, granting little freedom to the child. The permissive parent on the other hand, is a slave to the child; places priority on the child, not on his/her spouse; robs the child of self-respect and self-confidence by doing things for him that the child can do for himself; provides the child with the “Disneyland” experience; and/or makes things as easy as possible with inconsistent parenting. Both of these parenting styles
set the stage for anger and rebellion in the child.
“I believe there is middle ground between authoritarian and permissive,” said Dr. Leman. “It is being authoritative. Authoritative parents do not dominate their children and make all decisions for them. They use the principles of reality discipline, which are tailor-made to give children the loving correction and training they need.”
Parents who use this approach:
- give the child choices and formulate guidelines with him/her;
- provide the child with decision making opportunities;
- develop consistent loving discipline;
- hold the child accountable;
- let reality be the teacher and convey respect, self-worth and love to the child and therefore enhance the child’s self-esteem.
Authoritative discipline involves at least three things:
- Discipline by way of action – the discipline should be swift, direct, effective and as closely tied to the violations as possible. For example, you have told your child it is time to get in bed. Your child is blocking with all kinds of stalling tactics. Reality Discipline says that you don’t argue or negotiate. You simply state – “If you don’t go to bed on time your bedtime will be even earlier for the next three nights.” or “Don’t go to bed on time and give up your favorite TV show for a week.” Be pleasant, but do not wavier or hesitate and make sure you follow through on exactly what you said you would do.
- Parents must listen to their children – There is great power in listening, but few of us tap that source of power. When you really listen to your children it helps you understand where they are coming from and what they are thinking. It allows you to make better decisions when it comes to disciplining.
- Parents should give themselves to their children – Giving of yourself (not things) to your children is an essential ingredient for effective discipline. The simple truth is children want their parents. They want our time.
Understanding Your Child’s Reality
According to Dr Leman, Reality Discipline has an “eye of the beholder” element. One of your major goals in using this type of discipline is to help your child think and learn. In order to be successful, you have to understand what reality is for your child. It is what your child thinks that counts. Your child’s reality includes extra-curricular activities, favorite television shows, privileges like staying up late, etc. Your child’s perception of what is happening is the reality you must deal with. For example if you find your child throwing a temper tantrum in the check out line, understand that their goal is to get your attention and ultimately for you to break down and buy the candy bar. Dr. Leman would suggest that you calmly step OVER the child and walk away- not out of viewing range, but far enough away that you are no longer an audience for the show. When there is no audience, the show stops.
What sets Reality Discipline apart?
Reality Discipline has distinctive characteristics that need to be practiced in every home where children live, claims Dr. Leman.
“Parents should never seek to punish, but to discipline, train and teach,” said Dr. Leman. “If ‘punishment,’ pain or some kind of consequence is involved, the parent is not doing it or causing it – reality is. This directly connects to the six rules and learning how the real world works. If your child is refusing to get up and go to school stop being the human alarm clock and let them face the consequences of being late to school. Reality discipline helps parents avoid inconsistent wondering between authoritarianism and permissiveness. It is the best system for teaching accountability and responsibility
in a way that it will stick and it is your best bet for avoiding what I call the Super Parent Syndrome.”
Avoid the Super Parent Syndrome
Even when parents are using the reality discipline concept, it is possible to fall into the trap of being a “super parent.” Dr. Leman believes there are four kinds of faulty reasoning that parents need to avoid:
- I own my children – Reality discipline reminds parents that the goal is not to own or keep children, it is to help them learn to be responsible and accountable persons in their own right.
- I am judge and jury – Although we have authority over our children, we should always use it with tender, loving fairness.
- My children can’t fail – Children should fail on occasion because failure is good for them. Home should be a place where children can learn more about themselves. It should be a place where children can make mistakes as they try out things they have decided on their own. Parents should not interpret their child’s failures as a direct reflection on them.
- I am the boss- what I say goes. There are many situations where a parent knows what a child should do because the parent has been down that road before, but reality discipline helps you guide your child, not dominate him and make decisions for him.
What Reality Disciplinarians Do
Your mission, should you choose to accept it as reality disciplinarian includes:
- Being consistent, decisive and respectful of your children as persons.
- Using guidance rather than force, but being action oriented and not satisfied to just use words.
- Holding your children accountable for their actions whatever those actions are and to help your children learn from experience.
- Realizing that you as the parents of your children, are the most important teachers your children can ever have.
There are no 100 percent guarantees when it comes to any single style of parenting. Every child has his/her unique personality and needs. The foundations for reality discipline are based on really knowing and understanding your child. Will the strategies work all the time? No. Will there be times when you are ready to throw up your hands in total frustration and resign from your job as parent? Probably. But, if your goal is to raise healthy, responsible children the best strategy is to keep working your discipline plan.
Julie Baumgardner is the Executive Director of First Things First, an organization dedicated to strengthening marriages and families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at: julieb at firstthings dot org.
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