Updated: Jul 5
MOM, I’m home! What’s for dinner?” shouts Joey as he bursts through the door, hurling his backpack in no particular direction.
Mom starts to sweat, there is no good answer to this question, no way to predict Joey’s response. One day “salmon and mashed potatoes” gets rewarded with a huge “that’s my favorite!”, two days later the same response could lead to a full out hour-long tantrum and major property destruction.
Mom is terrified, bracing for the onslaught. Joey senses the terror, and lets it rip.
If we wish to engage this child and help him to be self-disciplined, there are three critical decisions or strategies that you must follow right now.
Decide to see our child as a healthy child who is capable of learning to behave like a civilized person.
Decide to view our parenting role as crucial and powerful, a role that may not be abandoned or outsourced.
Decide to accept that raising children is a long and valuable process, that there are no shortcuts, and that our perseverance will help our child succeed.
If Mom saw Joey as healthy and capable, would she let this behavior drag on indefinitely? Would she be understanding that Joey had a hard day and needs to let off steam? Would she run to pick up the backpack and put it in its place? No, No, and No! Only Mom who has given up hope that she could ever socialize her kid and get him to take control of his behavior would stand by and suffer quietly.
Take a deep breath. It's time for the powerful parent of a healthy #InstantGratification” kid to flex his/her muscles and start raising this little guy to be a well behaved, responsible person.
The first step in the discipline process will be taking a long, yet non-judgmental look at ourselves. We have got to get our negative feedback down as close to zero as possible. That’s hard. Let’s take this step by step.
Ask yourself these questions:
How do you feel emotionally when your child behaves badly? Is it stress, shame, despondency, anger at yourself or him, desperation, fear for his future? Identify the emotion and let yourself know that not only is it legitimate, but you are in very good company.
How do you feel physically when he starts revving up? Upset stomach, head pressure, tight shoulders? Figure this out because the physical discomfort my help you stop yourself from falling into your own behavior cycle.
What is your general response? Do you yell, cry, insult, punish? Do you run to your room?
When we are presented with a challenge too difficult to handle, we go into high stress mode, the cortisol surges, and before we know it, our options are fight or flight. Yup, that’s what happens to us every time we get triggered by the misbehavior of “instant gratification” boy or girl.
Breaking the stress cycle, changing your habit loop
Breaking the stress cycle is demonstrated beautifully by the Olympic gold medalist and world record breaker #MichaelPhelps. #CharlesDuhigg in his fantastic and highly recommended book “The Power of Habit” relates this story.
As a child, Phelps was very emotional and undisciplined. His coach, Bob Bowman, realized that although Michael had great physical potential, if he was going to compete and win, he would have to become the best mental swimmer in the competition.
Every day after practice in the pool, Bowman sent Michael home with a “videotape” to watch. There was no video, it was a mental visualization exercise which was to be practiced twice daily. Phelps would imagine every move in the competition in slow motion repeatedly.
He focused in his mind on his past successes and dealing with any future challenges. He practiced so many times in his mind that when he actually stepped into the pool, he moved automatically.
When Phelps dove into the water at the Beijing Olympics, his goggles started filling with water. He was blinded. He was calm. He had already practiced swimming in the dark countless times.
in his “videotapes”. When he removed his goggles at the end of the race, he looked at the scoreboard which said “WR”, world record, next to his name. He had won another gold.
Parenting is as deliberate an act as winning a gold medal in the Olympics. The first step towards success is developing strong mental discipline:
Set your long-term goal and know why it is important to get there.
Find a quiet, calm time to play your videotape. Watch yourself interacting with your child. Study each trigger in slow motion. Review each conversation/argument/interaction.
Become aware of the physical sensation you feel when triggered.
Count your successes. Celebrate your calm choices and positive interactions.
Review all possible complications such as being triggered while the baby is crying, the house is messy, you just got home, the request is too unreasonable to bear, you’re hungry, tired, upset. Feel those challenges and apply your strongest mental discipline to remain calm. Keep practicing.
Let’s take it up a notch.
In real-time, while interacting with our child, even with all the practice, we can still be overtaken by emotion (quite a human response) and slip back to the habit we are trying to break.
Add an external intervention such as:
Hanging a stop sign in the kitchen.
Writing a mantra that gives you strength (examples: "Focus on the goal," "I am stronger than my need to explode," I got through childbirth- this is easy," "One moment of self- control will pay huge dividends," "I love my calm responses").
A mother once told me “I never yell at my kids, but I do go to the bathroom a lot”. Get out for a few moments.
Have a ready joke. One mother chose to say “serenity now” from Seinfeld out loud when the stress hit.
Give yourself a huge gold medal for each success. Really! Reward yourself by sitting down and drinking a full coffee while it’s still hot, read for a few minutes, be nice to yourself!
Share this process with your spouse or a friend. Talk it through, ask for feedback, savor positive moments. Move your behavior out of the realm of unconscious habit and into conscious focus.
Parenting lovingly requires high mental disciple and practice. As parents we must internalize the massive responsibility of guiding each child on the road towards success, which leads to happiness. No child should be excluded from this process. The journey requires effort, leaving one’s comfort zone, and even pain and discomfort, but the reward is great.
You may ask “OK, now I’m calm. But my child is still melting down, destroying property and getting thrown out of school. Now what?” You’re right. Any worthwhile achievement takes time.
There are a few important steps in this process. The first is building mental discipline so our children know they will not be rewarded for negative behavior.
The second is replacing negativity with powerful positive responses.
After that we add strength to the program with effective respectful punishment, followed by helping our children develop consistent habits and routines. Stick with me. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for the first part of "Discipline and ADHD Children series."
Next in the series: The Art of Powerful Positive Parenting