Universal questions….a series.

No. 1.   “Sooooo, what do you do about discipline?”

That word, discipline….it prompts a lot of varied scenarios and experiences, doesn’t it?  I suppose in this context what most people are really asking is; how can you help me when my child’s (developmentally appropriate) behavior is embarrassing or makes me feel totally inadequate as a parent?!

Like so many of our parenting challenges, there is no shortcut or quick fix here. OK, no GOOD quick fix. It’s true, you can exert your greater size and power of intimidation …yelling, issuing ultimatums and threats of no dessert – all of those options will do the trick in the short term. But, when the dust settles, what is the greater take-away for the child? That the bigger person wins? Might makes right? It is unlikely that any three year old will take that experience and conflate it into a reflection on self-improvement. And the next time they grab or yell at a younger sibling or friend, will that then be an acceptable route to resolution? I assume not.

So, since our goal is for our children to be inclined to ask, negotiate, wait, understand and give – we are going to have to help them learn and then practice those skills. Over. And over. And over. But that’s OK, because that’s what this age is all about, lots of time to try things, practice things and marvel at what happens when you approach a problem with a positive solution. Little kids like harmony just as much as the rest of us, once they’ve had a nice, sweet taste of it.

The many moments throughout a day when our agenda bumps against the agenda of a child are natural opportunities to help them learn and practice actions that are based in fairness, generosity, empathy and justice. Their play situations are also a constant opportunity to choose what route to come at a problem. It’s OK if the first thing doesn’t work out — given clear, kind and consistent language to practice with friends, preschoolers are negotiating their problems with remarkable skill. We notice that by the middle of the year, the older kids are acting as spontaneous arbitrators. They know what techniques are generally approved of and will offer their expertise, often without any adult prompting. It is a beautiful thing, and we could all take a lesson or two.

About Kris Taylor

I am the very fortunate director of two small, mixed-age preschools that are finding their unique paths by interpreting and incorporating the best of the progressive, constructivist early childhood philosophies. I never forget that the community of teachers, families and children are what makes it the amazing place that it is. Each day is another precious opportunity to practice and perfect valuing, respecting and loving one another; creating and exploring community; and having immeasurable fun in the process.
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