Sophia is now well into toddlerhood, that magical age of curiosity, heightened emotions, endless energy--and no rationale! For Brian and me, it marks the birth of the disciplinarians: Us. If you look at the word discipline, you'll see that it shares the root of "disciple." To discipline does not mean to punish; it means to teach. Often punishment is a tool for teaching, but it is merely a tool: never the end in and of itself. Teaching is the core of discipline, instilling lessons and shaping character the end goal. Unfortunately, my experience with teaching and training pertains only to older children, those that can be reasoned with. A couple months ago, when I started to realize that Sophia was choosing to be outright defiant, I turned to Brian in confusion, asking, "How do we teach someone who can't be reasoned with? What is she capable of understanding?"
Of course, we don't remember how our parents dealt with all our toddlerhood foibles, and since we are both only children, we never saw our parents disciplining younger siblings of this age. We remember the later years, when our parents would sit us down and speak to us about the wrong we had done and then mete out a punishment that fit the crime. That's all well and good, but it requires rational thought, something way beyond our little Sophia's capabilities at the moment. To compound things, the only advice that the "experts" of the day are offering are techniques that are, again, not likely to be of much use with a toddler. For example, a time out. You try getting a cranky 19-month-old to sit in a chair! And, I'm not about to turn her safe-haven of a crib into a punishment cage.
One of the benefits of flying blind, so to speak, is that Brian and I are not running the risk of simply doing what our parents did, whether or not it works for Sophia. We're able to try different disciplinary techniques to see what works with her, what she responds to, what seems to penetrate deeply enough that she will not commit the same offense again...at least for the rest of the day. Since disciplining is teaching, it stands to reason that, as with teaching, there is no single magical technique, method, or style that will work with each and every child. Sophia is a unique human being, our precious child; she is not a statistic or a machine. In order to discipline her--to teach her--we have to discover how she ticks.
This is one of the many fantastic blessings that comes from raising your child in the home under your own watchful eyes. You see patterns that might otherwise elude you if you were away from your child many hours a day. You learn what their triggers are, rather than simply witnessing the fallout of the trigger already having been activated. In this way, you can learn exactly what needs to be disciplined. At the core of every misbehavior is some root cause; it's not enough to weed out the misbehavior; you have to get to the root. Though Sophia is only 19 months old, I get the feeling that discovering these roots now will give me a lot of clarification for when she is older and her transgressions become more varied. I also suspect it will provide me with vital insights into how she is best taught to learn from her mistakes and missteps and to master herself; after all, the ultimate goal of parental discipline is the self-discipline of the child.
I have found techniques that seem to work with Sophia, and I employ them. I have found triggers that can set off her sensitive baby emotions, and we try to avoid those. I don't know if these techniques and triggers will be the same with other children. I'll let you know when I've had more experience. Because of this, I'm not going to share exactly what our disciplinary techniques or Sophia's triggers are. That's not the point. The point is that discipline at an early age is vital to the development of child's character...and parents' sanity!
I'm going to be honest, though, it's not always easy. Sometimes, I would much rather just not deal with discipline. If I ask Sophia to put away a toy and she disobeys me, it would be a whole lot simpler to just pick the toy up myself and toss it in the box while letting her toddle out of the room according to her whim. Especially being seven months pregnant, the last thing I want to do at the end of a long day is get down on the ground and follow through on something or correct or scold. And, of course, with these last precious months before the new baby arrives to have only Sophia all to myself, who wants to play bad cop?
This is why it is so important to keep a vision for discipline. Consistency is the key; one act of disciplining isn't going to shape Sophia's character anymore than one act of disobedience on her part is going to break it. But, a habit of disciplining on my part will instill a habit of self-discipline on hers. I must remember that her future character--which will decide her future happiness--is at stake, that is the end result of all my teaching. And, if I choose not to discipline, that is a lesson in itself, but not the right one. I must keep in mind that my vocation of motherhood has made me uniquely responsible to pass on an understanding of God to my child. Discipline is a part of that, a significant part. A lot of people get their tempers hot over the proverb, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." I'm not going to get into a debate about corporal punishment, rather, I'd like to offer a thought for this verse. What if the point were not about what you use--a rod, a hand, a stern voice, a time out--but that you do something--something that works? You see, I believe the essence of this verse is that all parents are called to discipline their children, diligently and consistently; if they fail in this calling, the child's character will be spoilt.
I'm only a young mom just testing her parenting legs, a reflection of my little girl testing her physical legs. I'm certainly no expert, but I am more of an expert on my child than Dr. Sears, Terry Brazelton, or any of the rest of them. I'm also a Christian, and I understand that my motherhood is not just a state of being, it is a lifelong vocation from God, Who is gracious enough to have equipped me with everything I need to live it out, if only I will be disciplined in doing so. So, I pass on these words of encouragement to other young mothers, along with assurance that, by virtue of granting you your children, God has given you everything you need, too, if only you will lean on Him, trust in His ways, and be disciplined in using and administering the gifts He blesses you with.