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Discipline For Life: An Outgrowth of Attachment Parenting

by Dr. William and Martha Sears
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 32 No. 1, February-March 1996, pp. 12-13

1995 LLLI Conference-Chicago: Reviewing Our Notes
Highlights by Kathy Triick

Ed. Note: The Sears use the term "connected kids" as an alliterative gimmick to help us remember their message. The word "kids" is commonly used in the USA in place of the word "children."

Listening to Bill and Martha Sears at a conference is always a treat. He is a pediatrician and a member of LLLI's Health Advisory Council; she is a nurse and an LLL Leader. Together they are the parents of eight children and authors of several parenting books.

During their session they shared their experience and insights on discipline in the context of attachment parenting. They were relaxed and laid-back, each stepping in to elaborate as they felt the urge when the other was speaking. They work well as a team, not only as speakers, but obviously as parents and life partners as well. I had no trouble accepting them as "experts in their field."

Dr. Sears told us the key to discipline is knowing your child, and he believes attachment parenting is the best way to accomplish that. He defined attachment parenting as an exercise in baby-reading--learning to read the cues your baby gives you. It is vital that we get connected to our children early; breastfeeding, "wearing" our babies, and co-sleeping are some ways in which we can do this.

There are wide-ranging differences between "connected kids" and "disconnected kids." "Connected kids" are easier to discipline, according to Dr. and Mrs. Sears, because of the mutual sensitivity between parent and child. "Connected kids" are children who care; their sense of empathy is well developed. They have learned to trust, want to please, and are more independent and secure. They have a sense of well-being within themselves, and they are more open to redirection by their parents when the need arises. "Disconnected kids" can be angry, insecure, or clingy because they don't know what is expected of them.

The greatest difference between the two types of children is in their sense of self-worth. Because of a high level of self-esteem, children who are connected tend to be more sociable, considerate, and willing to share. They make lasting friendships. Children who are disconnected become aggressive, shallow, and manipulative.

Not surprisingly, being eager to learn, "connected kids" also do better in school. They are more likely to become student leaders. Unlike "disconnected kids," they have learned to express their emotions appropriately and so it is less difficult to tell what they are thinking and feeling. Because their cries were listened to from early on, they have learned to ask for adult help when they need it. "Disconnected kids" withdraw when they have problems. "Connected kids" are morally connected; they know right from wrong. They pay attention to and care how their behavior affects others around them.

Dr. and Mrs. Sears believe that in order to raise "connected kids," we have to study our children, becoming experts on them. We need to know age-appropriate behavior so we don't have unrealistic expectations. They emphasized thinking "children first," trying to put ourselves in our children's places before we discipline them.

Attachment parenting does include setting limits. The home is a reflection of society, and limit setting is a valuable life lesson. Your child will eventually have to deal with the outside world and it will place plenty of limits on him. Discipline is a balance between "yeses" and "nos." The Sears emphasized the need to find positive, creative alternatives to saying "no" when setting limits. Using an "I mean business" voice or giving your child "The Look" are two ways of saying no without actually using the word and can be effective if used sparingly. They can be abused, however, and are damaging to a child's self-esteem if used too often. Remember, "the fewer the 'nos,' the better your day goes."

Control is often a big issue for people when speaking of discipline. Dr. and Mrs. Sears encouraged parents to control situations, behavior, and environments--not their children. Just as gardeners can weed, water, and mulch but have no control over when their gardens bloom, we need to provide structure in our children's lives, controlling conditions, not them.

Parents set the norm for children. Dr. and Mrs. Sears shared a number of ways to convey expected behavior. They are not meant to be used all at the same time:

  • Connect before you direct. Use eye contact and touch to focus your child on what you are saying.
  • Address the child by name.
  • Stay brief or children become "deaf." They called this the "One Sentence Rule."
  • Ask the child to repeat back to you what you've just said.
  • Make your child an offer she can't refuse; for example, "Get yourself dressed so you can go out and play."
  • Be positive. Instead of saying "No running!" try "Inside you may walk, outside you may run."
  • Use "When you____, then you can____" sentences that teach consequences. "When you throw your dirty shirt down the laundry chute, then it will get washed and you can wear it again."
  • Use your legs first, your mouth second. Don't yell from another room.
  • Give choices. They should be ones you can live with and not too many or it becomes overwhelming.
  • Write notes to your children. Obviously, this works best with older children.
  • Give likable alternatives. Put a "can do" immediately after a "can't do."
  • Use the word "special" frequently when talking to your children about themselves.
  • Speak your child's mind. Children sometimes have difficulty articulating, especially when they are angry.
  • Use substitutions, distractions, and diversions.
  • "Replay" if a situation gets out of hand. Give them a second chance to do it right.
  • Cultivate interdependence--do it together!
  • Help children think through what they're about to do. Help them learn to imagine and to empathize.
  • Humor is an excellent tool. It surprises and disarms. Use it often.
  • Use time-outs when necessary--for both parent and child.
  • A reward chart can help you get through a difficult phase.
  • Look for the positive in every situation.
  • Remember that different temperaments require different discipline techniques. What works for one child may not work for siblings.

An incredible amount of useful parenting information was shared at this session, based on the Sears' latest book, The Discipline Book (LLLI No. 332). In closing, they pointed out that the end result of discipline and attachment parenting is children who care. What more could we ask for?

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