Practicing attachment parenting generally leads to a great deal of research. In addition to simply wanting to be well educated about my parenting choices, I’ve found myself researching parenting topics regularly for many reasons. Family and friends tend to come to me for advice and information because they know I’ll find the most accurate available. This led me to further research in college, focusing most of my electives in psychology and education. You’d be surprised how much a thorough knowledge of such topics helps in political advocacy, as well.
First thing is first. No, “Intuitive Discipline” is not a well known term. You didn’t miss something. I am coining the term to describe how AP parents, well … parent. AP parents are always described by what they don’t do, and seem to have a hard time explaining exactly what it is they *do*. It’s too simple to put into words. They use “Intuitive Discipline.”
They don’t think of their children as subordinates, but as other people. This changes the rules significantly. The reason they don’t hit, don’t spank, and don’t yell (well, they try not to at least!) is that it is a disrespectful way to treat another person. That’s right. They consider children to be people too, with the right to be treated with respect like any other person. If it’s not acceptable for me to hit the lady next door for making rude comments to me, it’s not acceptable for me to hit my child for the things he says either.
I refer to any form of purposefully inflicting pain on another as hitting here. It’s not anymore acceptable for me to kick, slap, pinch, or even spank the lady next door…no matter how badly I want may want to. If you can get this far, you’re ahead of most American parents. We’ll call this “Non-Violent Discipline” and if this is as close to Intuitive Discipline as you ever are, you are still doing great.
Intuitive Discipline takes this concept a little further though. You may find that these parents don’t even dole out time-outs very often. The reason for this is a difference in how they see time-outs. Most parents see time-outs as a punishment to be used for behavior training. It’s the same as spraying a cat with water to teach them not to jump on the counter. Instead of training their children to behave the how the parents want, Intuitive Discipline teaches them to think for themselves and choose positive behaviors.
If a child talks back, a time out may be used to help each party calm down before dealing with the problem. The time-out isn’t seen as dealing with the problem though. The child still doesn’t understand *why* they shouldn’t say those things to their parents, or have any other method of achieving their goals. The actual discipline is to talk with the child, and then to encourage them to make up for their behavior.
As an example, suppose Johnny yelled at his mom angrily when she announced dinner, maybe even called her some names. If Mom could calm Johnny down and talk with him, great. If not, she could send him to time-out for a few minutes and then speak with him. Either way, the conversation may go something like this;
Mom: “Johnny, those were some pretty mean things you said to me. Were you *trying* to hurt my feelings?”
Johnny: “Well, no…”
Mom: “Then, why did you say them.”
Johnny: “I was really angry. I don’t want to go to dinner. My show isn’t over.”
Mom: “Why is that show so important to you?”
Johnny: “It’s the missing episode, Mom! I got all my homework done early just so I could watch it!”
Mom: “Oh! So, you worked really hard just to watch that show. Then, I came in and told you to turn it off? That must have been very frustrating.”
Johnny: “Ya. It’s not fair.”
Mom: “Well, yelling at me didn’t do much good. You had to turn it off anyway because you yelled. Can you think of a better way to deal with things next time?”
Johnny: “I guess I could just tell you I’m watching something.”
Mom: “That’s a very good idea. Also, if you’re planning to watch something important like that, you should let me know ahead of time. That way, I can plan around it.”
Johnny: “Ok, mom. Can I go finish my show?”
Mom: “Almost. We need to talk about name calling a little too, I think…”
In the end, Johnny may be asked to come up with one or more earnest compliments for each name he called, or explain in detail how he feels when others display similar behavior toward him. This way Johnny isn’t just learning not to yell at mom. He’s learning that he won’t get his way for yelling, to control his temper, to communicate his needs, and to think of solutions to his problems. Since mom waited until everyone was calm to deal with him, and refrained from yelling or hitting, he also learns to treat the people around him with respect. It also reinforces the need to control one’s temper.
This isn’t always the easiest parenting style, and may not work for parents that struggle with communication, managing their own tempers, time management, or logic. Below are a few of the benefits and drawbacks of Intuitive Discipline.
Intuitive Discipline doesn’t involve learning any special order of actions. You simply think of your children like people, and treat them the way you would want to be treated in their place.
The longer you use this method of parenting, the more you will find your children self-disciplining. When they do something they shouldn’t, they understand why it was wrong before you ever have to tell them. They begin acknowledging and attempting to make up for their wrong-doings at a much earlier age than their peers.
Unlike many common parenting techniques, you never have to worry who will find out how you parent. You don’t have to take your child into private to discipline them. You don’t make your children feel ashamed to discuss anything, or teach them to keep any part of their interactions with you to themselves.
With a greater understanding up the “how’s” and “why’s” of behavior, children will be more inclined to make good choices when their parents aren’t around to catch them. They also tend to teach their friends and siblings to behave more respectfully as well. Before long, parents often discover their children to be leaders among their peers.
When children are respected by their parents, the respect themselves. Such children are more likely to be confident and positive about themselves and their lives. Their self respect and respect for others earns them the esteem of their peers as well. They tend to be popular and well liked for their respectful attitudes.
This method takes more time than some others. It is more time consuming to discuss a child’s behavior and options with them than to simply punish them for disobeying. After months or years, there are less incidents to deal with, but getting to that point can sometimes seem like one long discussion.
Lack of Instant Gratification
When you immediately dole out a punishment for each negative action, you immediately feel as though you’ve done something to improve the child’s behavior. Discussion lacks that instant reinforcement for the parent. You, instead have to wait until the child’s behavior has changed drastically enough that all those conversations are proven effective. Occasionally you hear your child reasoning out their behavior, or explaining proper behavior to siblings or peers. Usually, though, you just have to trust that what you’re doing will work until you see the results.
Lack of Emotional Release
Lashing out in anger provides an emotional release that is sometimes compared to a chemical addiction. It gives the parent a sense of power and authority to punish their children. Hitting, yelling, grounding, taking beloved toys away, and even time-outs can give parents a temporary sense of empowerment that may help compensate for feelings of helplessness in other areas of life. Treating children with respect of an adult does not give the same results. Parents that are used to this “high” often feel that they are giving their children all the authority in the family because they are not used to empowering themselves in other ways.
Any child that’s not used to this method will take a little time to adjust. Most will prefer it and respond well, but not all. Specifically, children with certain special needs or that have traumatic pasts may openly rebel. A special warning to foster and adoptive parents. Anecdotally, it seems that this method can be either the hardest and most painful thing on earth, or the hardest, most painful, and most worthwhile thing on earth. Children with significantly traumatic pasts often rebel so extremely at being treated well, that they have to be eased into the idea of self-respect. Some never accept Intuitive Discipline.
Other parents can have trouble understanding what you’re doing. All they see are the “don’t.” You don’t hit or spank or yell. You barely ever even give a time-out. They think if don’t parent like them, you just aren’t parenting. They may tell you you spoil your children, or belittle you. Sometimes they can be very aggressive about their views. If violent parenting is common in your area, this can be very persistent and is something to consider.
While Intuitive Discipline produces more emotionally stable and morally sound children, it’s not always the best discipline method for every family. Children with unique needs may not respond positively to it. Parents with certain emotional and temporal obstacles may not be able to use it consistently. Families in areas where physical discipline is still common place may find the social risks outweigh the benefits. Each family should judge for themselves what is best for their children and themselves. The key to successful discipline is consistency, regardless of what methods are used.
*Time-outs aren’t only for children. It’s perfectly acceptable to tell your child to go to their room until *you* calm down. In fact, they are usually more than willing to comply and deal with a calm parent later than an angry one now.
*Don’t just demand respectful behavior, but model it. If you do lose your temper with your child, think about what you ask them to do to make restitution when it’s them blowing their top. Then, do the same thing to them. Rules go both ways.
*”I’m sorry,” is ok for small children, and a good start for older ones. If they don’t take some kind of action to fix or make up for their mistakes, though, it will take a lot longer to modify their behavior.
*If you came from a family that practiced physical discipline, you may feel that urge in spite of your better judgment. Take the steam out of the urge to get physical by hugging your child. No matter how angry you are, or how much they fight being hugged in the middle of an argument, just keep hugging until you have a handle on your anger. It allows you to fill the need to *do* something to the cause of your upset, without doing something you will later regret.
*If you fell the urge to lash out verbally, think of a silly phrase to use instead. When you feel the urge to call your child stupid or another degrading name, let “silly-pants” or “gibbledy gopheroo” come out of your mouth instead. It will defuse the tension and help you not to say something you’ll regret.