Zen and the Art of Discipline: Teaching Adults to Stop Fighting Like Children | Development | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

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Zen and the Art of Discipline: Teaching Adults to Stop Fighting Like Children

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Last Updated: 08/10/2015 10:02 am
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In a family of perfectionists, the tweenaged Elorah couldn't be wrong. She was born relishing the stimulus of conflict. Her mother, Erin Muller, recorded their interactions, and Anspach gave her feedback on ways Muller could dissociate. Stepping back helped Muller to realize that it was physiological for Elorah. Feeling less critical of herself, Muller could see how to support Elorah while presenting clearly defined limits.

In conflict, even with our own beloved kids, it becomes personal and internalized. Parents almost get into the brain stem's fight or flight mode themselves. "What I learned through Conscious Discipline, after years of trying things, was that I have to keep calm first."

Even when parents are with their children all day, they're often digitally occupied. That isn't the face-to-face contact that builds key cortical limbic connections. "If we don't section out time where we are able to be present, children suffer," says Anspach. "That's what we see with behavior: children are often lacking that connection."

Tamburrino and Muller incorporate discipline into their everyday lives by heading off problems before they happen. With Elorah, it's about strategizing different scenarios so that when she's in a situation, Elorah has a plan. "We expect kids to have all kinds of skills," Muller muses. "You don't expect a two-year-old to read; you can't expect they'll stop what they're doing instantly. It's not skills they have, and that's OK. We have to help them learn those skills outside of the conflict."

Discipline Yourself First

Now Muller sees it as a teaching moment when her younger son tries to climb into the oven because he thinks it's fun, and she's careful not to manipulate Elorah's accommodating sister into doing things to make her happy. "That's not my job to get them to comply right now. It's my job to teach them healthy emotional functioning." And as Anspach says, "You can't teach something you can't do yourself." Muller feels that she can't expect her kids to behave in a situation better than she does. When Muller releases her own perfectionism, it allows Elorah to let go of hers. "But if nothing changed in my kids' behavior, I have a different perspective. If nothing else, I feel better about my own behavior."

Nicole Mack was a great parent to her little girl, Skylar. Then she had twin boys. "You get tired. I found myself yelling. I didn't like how I was interacting with them." There was tightness in her chest, and she felt pissed off. "I was overwhelmed, and everyone was screaming. It was horrible." When she practiced Conscious Discipline skills, the tantrums didn't last so long. "My tantrums, my husband's tantrums," Mack quips. "Everything is calmer in the house."

As Bailey writes in the core Conscious Discipline book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, "Remember, discipline yourself first, and your children second." In any situation, your intention precedes you, and that's where traditional, fear-based discipline methods like time-outs, elaborate punishments, and spanking fails. The unconscious intention is to shame, punish, or make someone do something. The students of Conscious Discipline are learning love-based discipline, where they practice being present and composed in moments of family conflict, rather than always needing to improvise. They hope to download their calm to their children. But that transition is a practice. "[It's] about lasting inner change for you and your child. Such change demands time, effort, and persistence," writes Bailey.

In the last year, Conscious Discipline has helped the Mack boys interact as toddlers, taking turns and playing well with others. Skylar uses the language, too, when the three play together. "And I go to my room when I'm upset," Skylar says. It's her Safe Place—a Conscious Discipline term for a space where people go to calm down. Mack also uses the techniques in her Infant Swimming Resource lessons. To new swimmers, Mack gives two positive choices, which fosters a sense of control so they're open to learning.

"There's this idea that parenting is innate," Anspach says, "but the reality is that it's learned." In her classes, Anspach teaches adults to disengage so other people's behavior doesn't impact them. Parenting is stressful, and it's easy to be overwhelmed when constantly policing the children. Tamburrino feels it brings up old feelings of powerlessness: people being hurtful or not recognizing your feelings. "You're your own therapist in a way when you're parenting." When she tells her son, "You're having such a rough time," it's a way to remind herself, too. "They are having a hard time; they're not doing it to you," says Tamburrino. Conscious Discipline helps parents to notice what their triggers are and manage their own internal mayhem. Because combing your home or the world for ways to help and connect with people leaves no room to take things personally.

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