It’s easy to identify when my children misbehave. One child says “I want that toy” and yanks it from her brother’s hands. I’m not even two steps closer to intervene when I hear him scream his indignation as he plows his big sister over. Now both of my children are locked on the toy, red-faced and sobbing.
Intervention must happen, right? I high-tail it to my snarling children, pry them apart, and address the situation accordingly. Perhaps it’s my motherly instinct to keep them alive for as long as possible, but this element of knowing when it’s time to parent is not hard. The tricky part is implementing a discipline for each incident that will help my children become mature, responsible, considerate, functional adults who can think for themselves and pursue a healthy path in life.
No pressure, right?
Parents are the judge, jury, and executioner for our children’s behavior. That’s a ton of power that can be misused so easily. Many story lines in movies explore this topic of abusing power (e.g. “Captain America: Civil War,” “Spider-Man,” “Mean Girls”).
Some examples of how that can manifest itself in parenting are yelling at a child, verbal or physical abuse, emotional manipulation such as playing the “victim” to guilt a child, and so on.
Children can’t verbalize their emotional needs to us very well. It’s not like a kindergartener is going to say, “Mommy, I would grow up with a much higher self-esteem if you didn’t call me that.” It’s up to us to protect our children, even if it means protecting them from our potential abuse of parental power.
Getting to the heart of the matter
I truly wanted to learn how to discipline my children effectively, lovingly, and wisely. But how? The answers began coming when I read “How to Really Love Your Child” by Dr. Ross Campbell. He said so many parents simply address their child’s behavior. Instead we must explore the root of the issue.
We must seek our child’s heart.
I began asking myself new questions. “What is my child’s motivation for acting this way? Where did this pattern of bad behavior start? How can I speak into that?”
Shortly after, I started conducting what I call “mom audits.” A mom audit is when you analyze your own actions, feelings, motives, etc. in any given parenting situation. I think we audit our children’s behavior all the time. If I see my daughter melt down as she struggles to put on a sock, for example, I check the clock. My quick audit usually shows me it’s near nap or bedtime, hence the meltdown.
If we didn’t audit our children’s behavior, we’d have a difficult time assessing what they need. I believe the same is true for us. When we don’t check in with our own heart and mind, we might also miss the parenting consequences that follow.
For example, one day I noticed my three-year-old acting up more than normal. He’s a placid kid, but for some reason he couldn’t quick picking on his sister. My efforts to correct his behavior didn’t seem to phase him. He’d tease her and land in a timeout or lose a privilege. When I tried to speak with him about his actions, he just pulled away more. He didn’t seem tired, hungry, ill, or lacking activities to stimulate his mind. It was frustrating, and although I was keeping my cool, I began to see why some parents lose it.
That’s when I remembered to stop correcting the behavior and explore my son’s heart instead. What he was doing to his sister was wrong, but what was behind it? I began asking myself some tougher questions. Through my first mom audit, I found powerful answers.
My Three “Mom Audits”
1 | Attention
How much eye contact have I given my son today? Have I tried to meet the needs of his natural love language – quality time? Did my son act up because he wanted attention while I was looking down at my phone? Was this how his three-year-old brain dealt with that rejection?
2 | Understanding
Have I given him a chance to explain his side of the story before I launched into all the reasons why his behavior was unacceptable? How well have I listened?
3 | Affirmation
How often have I praised my son when he made good choices today? Have I provided any positive reinforcement when he made improvements? Have I taken time to kneel down and say how proud I am of him lately?
My audit helped me discover that my son craved more attention. He was going to get it by any means necessary, which meant much of it was negative. I decided to put down my work, got down on the floor with him, and watch as he connected his toy trains in a long line. The moment he saw me sit down, he lit up and began narrating all the important details about his toys.
Then, my son said, “Watch this.” He raced his train across the playroom floor until it crashed into a plastic dump truck on the other side. He turned and met my gaze. “Did you see that, Mom?”
I smiled and said “Yes.”
The smile on my son’s face said it all.
It was in this moment I realized, my son had just audited me. Our children see so much, don’t they? My son desperately craved my attention and when I finally consented, he accepted it with open arms.
My son and I still discussed his defiant behavior from earlier. You’ll never hear me say to stop disciplining your child. I believe it’s an act of love for parents to hold their children accountable, to be consistent, and to help them understand the consequences of their actions.
However, we must also pursue their heart.
All children are different and will crave different things. “The Five Love Languages of Children” is an excellent resource for helping you understand how best to express more love to your child. My daughter so often craves words of praise more than racing toys across the floor together like her brother. When I check myself with her, I ask if I’ve spoken those life-giving words to her soul yet.
Through this auditing process, I’ve become a student of my children’s hearts. My hope is that they’ll grow up knowing, even when their negative actions lead to punishment, they are valued, protected, and always loved.