When I told my kids that I had volunteered to write a blog post about discipline, all three burst out in laughter. That's probably not a good sign. My husband and I have been called "very relaxed parents" by a friend who was trying to put a positive spin on what he saw as our ridiculously lax discipline. I chose to take that as a complement. We aren't the kind of parents who yell a lot, we don't grab our kids by their arms and shake our fingers in their faces, and we absolutely never hit our children. But that doesn't mean we don't have a method of discipline. We do--we do our best to set our children up to succeed.

For example, when our kids were toddlers, we didn't take them to nice restaurants where they had to sit in a chair for a long time and eat food they didn't like. When we did take them to places where they had to be quiet and still, we made sure they had quiet things to do and snacks. And we kept our eye on them, and scooped them up and moved on when we saw signs that their patience was running out, BEFORE the meltdown happened.

This method had one main benefit: from the beginning, we tended to enjoy being around our kids. We weren't anxious or tense around them when they were little in large part because we spent very little time trying to make them behave. We put them in situations where they could behave well, and when they couldn't, we took them out of the situation, gave them a break, let them run around outside and blow off steam, let them take a nap, let them have a snack.

I still smile when I remember our three-year-old twins having races on the sidewalk outside a wonderful Japanese restaurant in Berkeley, in between the courses of a very long dinner with my aunt and cousins. At first, my husband took the kids outside, but by their second or third race, the various adult relatives wanted to go too, and some of them joined in the race. My hunch was they needed a break too.

I am constantly amazed at how often parents around me fail to set their kids up to succeed. Airplanes are a great example. It is really hard to take a little kid on a long airplane flight, so you have to get prepared. You have to bring books, toys, markers and paper, and lots and lots of snacks. If you don't, you kid will start to entertain herself by annoying you, kicking the seat in front of her, etc. And then you start threatening her, telling everyone who will listen how impossible she is, etc. I have no sympathy for the parent in this case, and lots of sympathy for the kid. Why not set her up to succeed instead of setting her up to fail?

Maybe it sounds like I give my kids too much control. Maybe it sounds like I haven't really let them know who's the boss. I choose to think of it this way: from the time my kids were little, I let them know that our family is a team. We're not competing against each other and there aren't winners and losers. We're all on the same side, and we are all going to succeed together. That has built a kind of "esprit de corps" in our family that now exerts a very strong persuasive influence on my kids. They enjoy being around us, and even as they teeter on the edge of adolescence, we still really enjoy being around them. As a result, I can now see that sense of connection and empathy which is such a core part of my parenting is in them too.


posted by Heather Kirk-Davidoff at 4:41:00 AM |


At November 10, 2007 at 9:07 AM, Blogger Julie

Thanks Heather, I love this. It seems that too often parents forget that children are people too - deserving of respect with their own particular needs. Being aware of the needs of the kids instead of just our own needs helps establish that respect.


At November 10, 2007 at 9:45 PM, Anonymous sarah

Thank you for writing this post. I think your method of discipline makes common sense, and our society would probably have a more positive attitude towards children if more parents employed this method as well.


At November 11, 2007 at 7:55 AM, Anonymous sonja

Hi Heather ... that sounds a lot like how we've parented. It can be intense, but there are a lot of rewards too. Like we enjoy talking to our children and they will still talk to us!! My almost 14 yo daughter still listens to me and I count that a miracle!! But it's also because I listen to her and have since she was little. She has great wisdom in some things that is worth hearing. So does my 10 yo son ... if I hadn't been listening, (and been busy telling them how to do things my way) I would have missed it.


At November 12, 2007 at 6:50 PM, Blogger LietoFine

This is what I try to do as well. Not to say that I don't ever lose my temper or get frustrated, but I don't consider that discipline anyway...that's my problem, not my child's. He's only 18 months now, so I can't really say how it'll work out. I hope that as he grows up he understands that he is part of our team and not just a subordinate.

Cristi :]


At November 15, 2007 at 7:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

Heather, you have said it very well... The statement about enjoying your children is something that cannot be said enough. I have heard my mother say that she my now late father enjoyed me. At first I was put off by the statement but as you write about it I understand what she meant. My wife and I enjoy our two boys and I think that it was enhanced by having kids, now 12 and almost 10, when were in in our mid to late 30's. I must also give my wonderful wife a great deal of the credit for setting the tone of parenting in our house. Being an only child has made parenting a bit of a challenge for me but she has helped me. As for discipline, we discovered with our first born that spanking made him more aggressive, and we stopped doing that. We discovered that a time out in his room or on a chair was much more 'devastating' to him as he is a social person. Now we have two boys (pre-teen to be sure) that are a pleasure to have around. Discipline I have discovered must take place early and is geared toward future growth and development.


At November 19, 2007 at 7:43 PM, Anonymous Jenn

I am excited to have found this blog! We practice AP (attachment parenting) and it is sadly, not the norm in our church or circle of friends. We remain vigilant, though because the wonderful relationships with our 3 children are worth the criticism we sometimes get. Looking forward to some great discussions!


At November 20, 2007 at 1:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

Thanks Heather for your post.

Jenn, could you say a little more about 'attachment parenting'? I've never heard of it and would like to know more.


At November 20, 2007 at 5:09 AM, Anonymous Jenn

Hi Jason!
Attachment parenting is a style that is based on following your instincts in parenting. We live in a society that is primarily about detachment parenting. Cosleeping, extended bfing, babywearing, gentle discipline and responding to your baby's cues are some of the approaches but it is not just limited to these. I am a mom of 3 under 6 years old and just learned that my parenting style had a name with number 3, lol! You do not have to do all of the above and can still AP.


At November 20, 2007 at 5:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

Thanks Jenn. That's helpful.


At November 20, 2007 at 5:35 AM, Anonymous cynthia

this is so important ... setting your child up to succeed. I read a book called Biblical Parenting by Crystal Luddon and she said, "if you are in a tug of war with your children, put down your side of the rope and walk over to their side." Remember that we are not our children's adversary ... and vice versa ... we are their advocate! We are supposed to be on their side. The world is harsh enough. We need to give them that safe place to be, to learn, to fall, to get up again.


At November 21, 2007 at 11:21 PM, Blogger john alan turner

When I consider how God has parented me -- how in his mercy he does everything he can to help me "get it right" -- I cannot imagine doing less for my own children.