There is a little black journal Vick and I used to communicate our gripes in that crossed my mind. I thought to convert the concept into a kid’s friendly template whereby Sabrina could share her side of the story and brainstorm methods to solve any problem. She would write what she did, why she did it, who she impacted, and finally, what she would do next time if placed in the same situation. This ‘Share Your Story’ template was eventually converted to ‘Sabrina’s Diary,’ which not only gave Sabrina the opportunity to assertively express her thoughts through writing, but to discuss the problem and solutions as a family.
Kids may initially resist against writing their story: Sabrina surely did. Sometimes, I had to present her with a choice – either she could take the time to write in her diary, or she couldn’t go and do the things she wanted to do. When she was allowed to choose between two options, a guided lesson or a grounding, the choice was easy for her. Considering the children’s perspective, writing only takes 20-30 minutes, and having a discussion with their parents would take another 20-30 minutes. If they consider that against the loss that they’d feel being grounded, the decision making is simple. They understand the implications and therefore can make better choices! It’s the way we present these choices to them that will empower them to make decisions responsibly and take ownership over their life. Through writing, children can also discover and examine their feelings, beliefs, and reactions. Engaging in a constructive way to manage situations can inspire a child to continue applying collaborative methods to address conflicts outside of the home and in any situation.
I lay in bed one night wondering what would have happened if Vick had thrown away Sabrina’s dolls as he had threatened. It wouldn’t have ended well: more chaos, more yelling, and more resentment. Taking away a child’s toys for yelling and screaming or taking their phone away for doing poorly on an exam are just unrelated or irrelevant consequences. If the goal is to correct the behavior, grounding is only a short-term solution and is unlikely to help in the long run. Guiding with values and tools to make better decisions prepares the child to be self-reliant and able to assess risks and rewards before taking any actions. By guiding rather than grounding, it allows trust and respect to develop in the relationship. Every parent seeks for their child to listen and to trust them. Grounding does just the opposite because it infuses children with spite and deters them from solving the problem or any future issues collaboratively.
As kids proclaim independence with age, and there is less for the parents to physically take away, grounding evolves into a toxic cycle of sneaky behaviors and rebellion. These pent-up emotions can bring collateral damage to the relationship.
Parents must consider their purpose in imposing consequences. Ideally, a parent should seek three things: First, for the child to stop their bad behavior and for the arguments to stop; next, for the child to learn valuable lessons and promise to never repeat their misconduct; lastly and most importantly, for the relationship to be restored.
To achieve these goals, what would the ideal method of discipline look like? What are each person’s needs? How can the disparities in each persons’ needs be integrated and satisfied? How can expectations for proper behavior be established? By focusing on purpose, a parent must also consider the effective ways to instill values, principles, and solutions: this is done only with love and compassion toward the child’s perspective. The nature of the consequence should always relate to the child’s behavior and teach them what to do next time.
Guidance is a means of influence, just as influence is an art of persuasion. To persuade, a person must reason logically while tapping into someone’s emotions. In parental guidance the process is the same, but parents must demonstrate that they care about the child’s feelings to gain their trust. It is done as follows: First, the parent must sympathize with the child’s feelings and ask what specifically triggered the behavior. Feelings emerge from needs, so a child’s poor behavior is often a reaction to some unsatisfied need. The second step is for a parent to express understanding of the child’s behavior, but also explain its negative impacts. The third step is easy— ask questions! Prompt the child to think about different ways to approach a similar problem or how to prevent a similar issue from escalating. The parent should provide clues that lead to an ideal solution, and if the child is totally clueless, propose a solution. The parent should also explain why the new solution is beneficial to everyone involved, especially why it’s beneficial to the child. To conclude the conversation, reaffirm the solution in alignment with objectives, needs, and expectations.
I devoted a great amount of time to produce my parenting method. I truly cared about nurturing the relationship between my daughter and me and sought to be her role model. Stepping into motherhood made me realize that I didn’t have more rights than my child, but a greater obligation to lead with compassion.
As I found writing to be my most powerful tool for reflection in my youth, I wanted to gift Sabrina the opportunity to mature through this same outlet. She’d come to appreciate it because it helped her fill a first-aid kit that could heal any wound. Parents’ compassion and acceptance fosters appreciation that they seek in due time.