Becoming an Expert Parent

Just kidding! But I did learn a lot from reading 'Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline' by Dr. Becky A. Bailey.

I did it. Overdue, I know, but I finally abandoned my questionable “spaghetti on the wall” approach and read a parenting book, “Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline” by Becky A. Bailey, Ph.D. And of course, I both loved it and was slightly overwhelmed by everything I’m doing “wrong.” Thankfully, there is a seven-week program laid out in the final chapter so that you can adopt the practices outlined in the book one step at a time, should you wish to do so. I’m currently on week one: Stay calm. “Accept the moment as it is.”

“Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline” is based on a couple premises: 1) “Discipline” means teaching, not punishing and 2) The goal of discipline is not to gain control over your children, but to help them learn to make good choices; in order to do this, you must learn self-control. (Or, a la The Sphinx: “In order to discipline another, you must first discipline yourself.”)

The principles laid out in the book are more detailed than I can cover here, so I will just highlight a few points that I found especially helpful/interesting.

1. Disobedience does not equal disrespect.

Dr. Bailey writes, “Do you view conflict as bad? Most people do…Many parents also equate disobedience with disrespect. Such parents consider a child who does not follow their wishes disrespectful. A messy room seems to them to be the result of a child who didn’t listen, as opposed to a child who got distracted by toys or friends…Adults who equate disrespect with disobedience forget that children do not yet have all the emotional and intellectual abilities of grown-ups.” (Chapter Two: The Seven Powers of Self-Control)

She goes on to say that this view of disobedience causes parents to approach it looking for a “quick fix” rather than seeing disobedience as an opportunity to teach, helping their children develop the wisdom and self-control needed to make better decisions into the future.

Another aspect of this is that  misbehavior is an important developmental tool. Misbehavior helps children “learn what is safe and what is not,” “teaches children how to communicate in order to get their needs met,” “helps children learn what thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are appropriate to have toward others,” “teaches children how to say yes to healthy things and no to unhealthy things,” “defines for children what is their business and what is not their business,” “teaches children responsibility” and “provides children with opportunities to learn self-awareness and self-discipline.” (Chapter One: From Willful to Willing). This doesn’t mean that you turn a blind eye to misbehavior, but it is really comforting to know that you can change your mindset and see misbehavior as an opportunity, not a failure.

I’d love for Joss to grow up in a home where I don’t feel threatened by disobedience but do have a good system in place for how I’ll respond to it when it happens: one that affirms Joss’s rights as an individual but also helps him learn to make safe choices. I want him to be confident voicing his own opinions as an adult and believing in their value.  This is something I struggle with, as evidenced by the next point:

2. Be assertive, not passive, not aggressive.

Does anyone else feel like the following paragraph was written just for them?:

“In order to be assertive, you must express your feelings, thoughts, and wishes without diminishing those of other people. This sounds simple, but to clearly state your thoughts and desires, you must recognize and own them, and feel entitled to have them. In short, you must value yourself. You must shift your focus from what you assume others are thinking and feeling to consciousness of your own mind’s contents.” (Chapter Four: Assertiveness: Saying No and Being Heard)

Passive parenting reveals itself when you ask your child questions to which there is really only one correct answer. If I ask Joss, “Do you want to go to the potty?” when what I really mean is, “Go to the potty,” that is passive. And, according to Dr. Bailey, that kind of passive parenting often ends up resulting in aggressive parenting, when you end up yelling at your child for not doing what you (hadn’t actually) told them to do.

As someone who has a ridiculous amount of trouble voicing my own opinions (Even in graduate school, I never learned to speak up in class without it seeming like a REALLY BIG DEAL), the idea of becoming more assertive is both terrifying and hope-inspiring. I do use the passive parenting “techniques” described by Dr. Bailey–and I truly hope that by trying to adopt the lessons of this book, I will both become a better parent and a more confident person.

3. Assume positive intent.

This relates to the first point, that disobedience does not necessarily mean disrespect. When a child misbehaves, don’t assume that they’re doing so because they are selfish, willfully disobedient, stubborn, etc.

According to Dr. Bailey, “When you attribute negative intent to others, you subtly attack them. Your attempt to make them feel bad about themselves and their choices is a form of assault. You actually implant a feeling of danger in others every time you try to make them feel bad, wrong, or responsible for your upset, and this sense of being in danger usually creates conflict, as the other person becomes defensive, not cooperative. The conflict mounts if you proceed with your own agenda without inspiring the other person to cooperate. When you learn to attribute positive intent to other people, you possess a powerful skill. It is the skill you need to transform opposition into cooperation.” (Chapter Seven: Positive Intent: Turning Resistance into Cooperation)

For all of this, having a basic understanding of child development can be helpful. For example, when Joss keeps doing something we’ve told him not to (many times), it may be because he is at a stage where his brain/processing capabilities haven’t quite caught up with his ears. Just because a child can recite a rule doesn’t mean he or she has been able to internalize it yet. Who knew?? Toward the end of her book, Dr. Bailey summarizes some of the important developmental points children experience in their first 6-7 years. I am by no means an expert (at all!) but I think just having read that chapter on child development will help me stay calmer in situations of misbehavior and not assume that Joss is misbehaving just to be naughty.

I know this is just a cursory summary of a small fraction of what there is to be learned in “Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline,” but if you have reached a point (like me) at which you want to change some of your parenting habits but don’t know how, hopefully this will help you know whether or not you’d be interested in giving it a read!

And just so you know that I really am not an expert at this, one of my first attempts to use the language Dr. Bailey advises resulted in the following: “Joss, these are your choices: You can either jump on the couch or go to your room…wait…you can quit jumping or…hmmm…Just stop jumping on the couch!”

So: What parenting books have you found most helpful?

Categories: Spaghetti on the Wall