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Karen Brennan
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Discipline Part III—Saying “No!” and Being the Sun

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Here is our last installment on discipline.  Rahima writes about ‘When You Say “No!”’, “Negative Behavior” and “Our Own Emotions.”

Although we try to move with our child and say things in a positive, there are times when “No!” may be appropriate—when what the child is or is about to do will harm herself or others or when those actions would damage the environment.  Personally I have found “no” to be most useful when something is about to happen—a child is about to run into the street or to hit someone—and I am too far away to intervene—scoop him up or block his hand.  I use it when I need to startle a child, to interrupt what is about to happen. If it is used rarely and only when you really mean it, it is a more effective tool.  Rahima suggests that we may want to pause for a moment and see if we are sure of what the child intends before we intervene—when they are not in immediate danger, of course.  In  Heaven on Earth, Sharifa Oppenheimer says, “Be the sun!  Move slowly and compassionately, especially in disciplinary situations, bringing warmth and light—it’s a tall order!  You may need to practice.”  She tells us to be firm and kind, keeping our tone of voice unemotional.  Our children need to learn how the world functions without the overlay of adult emotion.  Ignoring a child’s negative behavior is sometimes effective, but if the behavior is escalating, it is better to interact with your child before things get out of control for either or both of you.  I know I have been pushed to my limit by my children’s behavior (when they were little).  Rahima points out that it is frustrating for a child to be allowed to get wilder and wilder in his attempt to get our attention.  We can engage calmly and creatively (before either of us is too far gone).  We can model how to ask for what the child wants.  We can remove her from a situation, not as punishment, but to give her a moment to recalibrate.  We can stay with them and give them time without interacting too much.  When a child in my nursery class was too out of herself to be in circle, my assistant teacher would take her out in the hall and sit with her or hold her on her lap without any verbal interaction until she was ready to return.  If she was too upset to sit, they would walk quietly together in the hall or outside if the weather allowed it.  This wasn’t intended as a punishment, but we did it because it was too much for the child to be with the rest of the children at that moment and it gave respite both to the restless child and to the rest of the group.

The last section on discipline is about dealing with our own emotions.  Following Sharifa’s advice above can be a big help.  But Rahima also suggests that when (if?) you do lose it with your child that you take a little time later to reflect on what happened.  What triggered your blow up?  What did you tell yourself in that moment?  She suggests that upsets happen in areas where you have ambivalent or unconscious feelings.  You can also think about what your child might be getting out of the situation.  Do you sometimes change your mind if your child whines or asks many times?  Are you waiting too long to set effective boundaries?  Do you need more support?

At the end of this section, Rahima reminds us that children are young for a very short time.  Any parent of older or adult children will probably tell you the same thing.  I certainly would.  Soon they will be away at school and you will have more time for other activities.  In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin says, “The days are long, but the years are short.”  This saying captures a lot of my experience when my daughters were young.  Enjoy every moment, even the struggles—and have a wonderful week!