“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s or child’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Matthew 7:3 (italic portion inserted by CF)”
When parents tell Lynne or me about their discipline struggles with their kids we often ask them, “What is your primary goal?” They almost always tell us that their goal is to get their child to either stop doing a wrong behavior, or to do the right behavior. Their fingers point at their kids. It turns out that this is often the problem when parents discipline their children.
Counselors tell us that anger or frustration often occur when we have a blocked goal. For example, if we have a goal to get somewhere in a hurry, and the driver in front of us is going slow, or the traffic light turns red just as we approach it, we get frustrated or angry because our goal is blocked. When we have a goal for our child to clean up his mess in the living room, and he keeps ignoring our requests to clean it up, we naturally get frustrated or angry. His lack of desired response becomes a red light on the road of our goal for him to obey and respect our instructions. So we get angry. Once we’re angry we generally push harder toward our goal. Since our child’s goal is to run his own life and keep mom or dad off his back, his goal is threatened, and he gets angry too. Anger feeds anger and pretty soon it’s out of control.
Does this sound familiar? If so, we suggest adding three new goals; goals you have full control of and responsibility for. In other words, let’s attend to the logs in our own eyes before pointing at our kids. This means that instead of primarily working to get my child to calm down, or take responsibility, or be more respectful (any of which they might just refuse to do), I work primarily on goals whose outcomes are fully within my control.
We have seen that parents who embrace these three new discipline goals experience profound and instant changes in themselves and in their children.
My Goal #1: Stay calm
My Goal #2: Communicate love
My Goal #3: Seek solutions instead of punishment.
With these as my primary goals (not my only goals – just primary), I can approach my child calmly and constructively. This is not to say we let go of the goals of helping our kids grow in obedience, respect, and responsibility. It’s to say we prioritize goals that are less about our kids and more about us. If these goals get blocked we can actually do something about it, because we are fully in charge of these goals and outcomes.
When we meet our goals for changing our own behavior, our kids are far more likely to change too. Here’s how it might play out with these added goals in place:
With a calm smile, not a grimace, I say, “Son, it looks like you didn’t get to that mess in the living room yet. What’s your plan about it?”
My son likely says something like, “I’ll get to it later!
This is where my new goals get put to the test. His response tempts me to feel frustrated by my blocked goal of a clean living room. But I now have a more important goal – to stay calm and to offer choices that will solve the problem. So I take a deep breath to stay calm, and keep working to meet my primary goals of calmness, love, and solutions.
“You can wait till later if you want, but know that if I pass by here again and the mess is not gone, I am going to put the stuff in a box, and you’ll need to do an additional chore before you get it back. If you have a better idea about it, let me know.”
I was calm. I was respectful. I offered a solution and choices. I will calmly follow through if needed. If my child challenges me in this (which he likely will, because this is a new approach), I’ll keep working on my primary goals. With this clarity, and without the anger and nagging, it is much more likely that my child will quickly learn to cooperate because he feels less attacked and more supported.
One mom who recently embraced these new goals reported:
“I have been transformed. My relationship with my kids has been transformed! My son asked me the other day, ‘Mom, why do always smile now when you discipline us?’ My response, ‘Because I love you!’ My kids are definitely adjusting to a new kind of mommy.”
Want to learn more about these concepts? Download our one hour recording of a Discipline That Connects workshop.