Friday, June 06, 2008

Discipline: Taking Up the Challenge

Elizabeth has continued her summer Charlotte Mason book study with comments on the "Education is a Discipline" section of the free ebook Education is ... (well worth downloading if you haven't already). I already posted a bit about education as a discipline in my previous post, so for my contribution to the conversation I am just going to develop a couple of ideas that are particularly applicable in my life at this point.

"Developing discipline in our children requires huge amounts of discipline in ourselves"

Oh, what a conscience pricker! As I wrote the other day: "Self discipline is my great weakness, and I get trapped in a cycle of good intentions followed by backsliding." But there really is no way I can ignore this if I want to be able to help my children to develop good habits. Elizabeth emphasizes the point:

"When I read about laying down the rails of good tracks of character in the lives of my children and training them in order to cultivate healthy habits, I recognize immediately that this is going to take some serious self-discipline on my part. I need to be disciplined in order to provide an education that is richly disciplined.
So ... for those of us who are decidedly challenged in the area of self-discipline, where do we start? "Education is ..." gives five suggestions for helping to develop good habits in children, so why not see if I can apply these to myself:
  • Pick one habit. There is no point in allowing myself to be overwhelmed by all the different areas I need to work on. But where to start? One thing I always struggle with is responding promptly to my husband and children. I hate having to leave something half done - an email half written, an article half read, a row half knitted, a floor half cleaned. The number of times in a week (or a day!) that I say to someone "in a minute" - a minute that turns out to be five or ten - doesn't bear thinking about. How can I expect prompt obedience or responses from my children if I can't manage it myself? So I think that will be my starting point.
  • Be vigilant and consistent. I can exercise vigilance by examining my conscience on this point frequently. I can also ask Tevye to be my cheer-leader. Consistency is going to be hard, because of my weakness with self-discipline. Maybe reminding myself that it doesn't take long to form a habit will help. Every time I fail will make it that much harder to establish the habit. Is that enough incentive?
  • Living examples. I have one. Tevye, the king of prompt responses. Angel is pretty good too.
  • Appropriate consequences. What are the consequences of failing to respond promptly? Irritation with myself. An irritated husband. A daughter who thinks her lack of response is acceptable. A toddler who will soon learn that it is OK to prevaricate when asked to do something.
  • Encourage, don't nag. Don't nag myself? I do, you know. I am quite capable of harping on about how irritated with myself I am for failing to do something I know I should have done. So dwell on the positive. Pat myself on the back for my successes and don't dwell on any failures.
Discipline: beginning the process with a toddler

As far as my children are concerned, for now I want to turn my habit-forming attention to Little Cherub, who is right at the beginning of the habit-forming process. So ... where to start with a toddler? "Education Is ..." gives a list of habits to work on. Skimming through the list, I picked out these habits as being particularly applicable to a two year old ...
  • Cleanliness
  • Manners
  • Neatness
  • Generosity (sharing)
  • Obedience
  • Even temper
  • Outdoor life
  • Training the ear and voice (that over-excited toddler screech ...)
A toddler is largely a clean slate. Working with a toddler is about encouraging good habits and nipping bad habits (screeching!) in the bud before they have a chance to develop. At this age I think vigilance and consistency is far more important than anything else. Never allowing an instruction to slip by unheeded; always correcting the screech; cutting short every toddler whine with a distraction ... absolute consistency!

This sounds a near impossibility, but I am noticing that intervention as soon as I notice something undesirable is remarkably effective. Far more so than it would be with an older child. Take that screech. Usually it happens when she is playing with her sisters, who hype her up. The first couple of times I winced but ignored it. Then it dawned on me that I didn't want it to become a habit. The next time she screeched, I got down to her level, told her that the noise hurt my ears and she needed to be quieter ... and the squeal went down several decibels. There was more screeching today when Star pretended (repeatedly) to let Cherub push her over. Much excitement, but this time it only took a gentle reminder to quieten her down ... and she seemed both amused and pleased that she was able to control her own volume.

Distraction is also a particularly useful weapon with toddlers. Walking home with Cherub today she went into a full-scale whine, complaining because she did not want to be strapped into her pushchair. Instead of just waiting for the whine to subside - let's face it, she was strapped and trapped, and I had the upper hand! - I started singing The Wheels on the Bus and encouraged her to choose verses. Instant distraction and some rather surreal verses ("the car on the bus goes vroom! vroom! vroom!").

In contrast to older children and adults, where working one habit at a time is preferable, with toddlers I think it is better to take a broader approach, putting out the sparks of bad habits as soon as they appear and encouraging a number of good habits simultaneously.

I'm looking forward to learning more from Laying Down the Rails, but at least I now have a starting point in my journey towards developing good habits ... a single habit to tackle for myself, and a determination to be thoroughly consistent with Little Cherub.


Shari said...

Funny, your habit to change is the opposite of mine. I am constantly leaving things half done to attend to the "tyranny of the urgent". Good luck!

Carla said...

Thanks for the thoughts on toddler discipline and on the habits that can be worked on now. Your experience encourages me with my own 22mos-old little guy...and all along, as a first time mom, I thought there was some magic discipline trick other than just sticking it out and correcting/distracting *every time*!~Carla

Pam said...

Thanks for your thoughts on toddlers. Very good timing as I really want to lay down the rails for my two and a half year old.

I love reading about your family. You are about my age; have a later baby (I have two tail- enders) and you live outside the States ( I live in Australia and am fairly familiar with English ways...)