It’s true. It hurts you a lot worse than it hurts them.
My 24-month-old is a natural envelope pusher.
He knows he’s not supposed to touch my phone so, instead, he’ll go stand by it and hover. He’ll put his hand over it, give a little laugh, then look me in the eyes and raise his eyebrows as if to ask, “Will you let me this time?”
In kind, I’ll raise my own eyebrows and then shake my head to say no. Because, see, I’ve learned my lesson with him. We had a toilet he once fed a computer mouse, a baby monitor, and a cell phone. So, you see, I am never off duty with him.
The truth of the matter is this…
Disciplining our children is much harder for us than it is on them.
And I’m not talking about spanking. I’m talking about disciplining.
The term “discipline” comes from the Latin word “disciplinare” which means “to teach.”
Here’s why it’s harder on us than it is on them.
1. It requires self-discipline from us.
I think being a mom is like being a professional athlete. Except no Nike gear. No endorsements. And without tens of thousands of screaming fans. Wait, there is a lot of screaming so my comparison stands. Athletes don’t train only when they feel like it. Can a coach who doesn’t hold practices, study the game or call any plays expect good things from their team?
Of course not. Parenting is similar. Parents have to be consistent, use both their instincts and a good plan, and create an environment where children know what to expect. When children know what to expect and what consequences will occur if they don’t, they rise to meet those expectations.
2. It is unrelenting.
Let’s be honest here. Consistency can be super annoying. It takes real effort to back up your word the 440th time that day your child is climbing up the bookcase. We teach children with our actions primarily and our words last. We must rest assured of one thing. The mothering gig, particularly when children are small and still learning, is a 24/7 job.
If we ignore our children’s bad behavior 45 times, then correct the 46th time, we are teaching them to ignore us. They don’t understand time. They aren’t in a hurry. They will settle in for the long haul if it gets them what they want. Not that they think, “Go suck a lollipop, mom, I’m going to ignore you,” but they come to learn that nothing happens if they don’t respond. So the threat of nothing consistent happening is not enough to stop them from doing something they think is fun. Like emptying your wallet and hiding your cards throughout the house.
3. It means you have to watch your mouth.
“If you don’t stop that, we’ll go home.” (except you’re three states away on vacation)
“If you don’t hurry up, I’ll leave you here.” (but that’s against the law)
“Fine, don’t eat dinner. Or breakfast. Or lunch. Just starve to death why don’t you!” (also against the law)
Empty threats and broken promises do a lot more damage than saying nothing. It feels easier to throw out a big warning than engage in day to day consistent training. It’s harder to enact a consequence at times because – really – you just want them to do what they’re told. It’s easier to threaten and scare, but it’s short sighted. And anyway, it doesn’t work.
4. We gotta be more mature than our kids.
I’m an only child therefore an old soul. According to birth order anyway. And yet sometimes I react in the most ridiculous immature ways. I don’t know how many times the kids have just sorta looked at me with their head sideways until one of them said, “Are you okay, mommy?”
Being a mom means we can’t just run away because we are in a bad mood. We can’t take all our anger out on them. We must rise above our desire to sleep until 11 and watch Netflix all day. We have to make sure they eat every day even if we’re not hungry and don’t feel like cooking. We have to be grown-ups, plain and simple.
“Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials.” Meryl Streep
It’s hard to spend the extra time teaching our children why.
It’s hard to follow through on our word.
It’s hard to put their needs above our wants.
But it gets easier when we see them look to us for approval. They look to us to know what to do. They want to please us. They want to do the right thing (ahem, mostly). They want to know that we are trustworthy, consistent, and fairly predictable. Because discipline brings them security.
Discipline is a hard thing to invest in. But pretty soon, it starts paying for itself.