There's something special about pagan parents. Maybe it has to do with our own childhood; growing up with so many questions and feeling that inner need to explore. Wanting to read, know about nature, experiment with everything, explore far away places, travel and see the worlds diversity; these are some of the many qualities we have acquired and bring to our own parenting.
Pagan's have no need to follow a vengeful god who must be worshipped above all else or end up in a perpetual fiery hellfire. We are taught to question, to see all sides of life, to find what feels right and good for us as individuals. Many of us came from faiths that were restrictive and at times claustrophobic. It was obvious early on that we needed to follow a different path. This path, even if challenging to get to, has opened us up to a life vision that will greatly benefit our children.
Positive Discipline, introduced by Jane Nelson, has been a vital tool used by educators, therapists and parents for over 3 decades. Dr. Nelson's parenting model moves us away from the idea that children should blindly obey or receive punishment and introduces a very pagan friendly approach to parenting. Full of inquisitiveness, questioning and exploration; children are not put into this box of 'what is right and/or appropriate for all children at this age' and allowed to truly express themselves, experiment, to be heard and most importantly to be made to feel like they really belong and are a major contributor to their lives and families.
Feelings of not belonging, not being heard and not having a say in our lives can ring true for many of us, especially those who were not raised pagan themselves but found their faith and/or spiritual practices later in life. No one wants their children to feel like this. Positive Discipline seeks to eliminate these feelings from our children's experiences.
The major philosophy behind Positive Discipline is that we should not make our children feel worse in order to motivate them to do better. Communication is key to this parenting style. Questions are encouraged, exploration is celebrated and mistakes are not seen as failures by our children or by us as parents but opportunities for learning and problem solving together.
As someone who has followed pagan spiritual practices for over 2 decades, the principles and philosophy of Positive Discipline are in so many ways a natural extension of pagan beliefs. Regardless of age, nationality, faith or culture we are all equal, we all have a right to be heard, we all want to feel like we belong.
Positive Discipline is not about letting our children get away with what ever they want. Whereas punishment gives us short-term satisfaction, statistically it doesn't hold up on a long-term basis with today's kids. The principles in Positive Discipline are meant for long-term benefits to the family as a whole. This means that as our reactions change our children will test the waters until they realize we mean business. Our children will see consequences for their mistaken behaviors, they will have the ability to learn accountability. By showing our children the respect they rightly deserve, we allow them to opportunities to express themselves and their feelings openly without fear of punishment or anger. By incorporating family meetings we allow our children to discuss mistakes, help find solutions and let them see that they do in fact have a say in their lives and families. It's surprising how knowledgeable our children really are when just given the opportunity to fix their own mistakes, rather than being told what to do by an adult.
Nelson states that misbehavior is simply a lack of knowledge or awareness, lack of effective skills (we as parents haven't given them proper or detailed enough instruction) or they are actually behaving in developmentally appropriate behavior, we just don't like it. In addition, we step in too quickly to 'save the day' for our children. We need to step back and allow our children to experience natural consequences. If your children know that breakfast is at 8:00 am but wander to the table at 8:30 because they refused to get out of bed on time we need to allow them to experience not getting breakfast that morning. If they refuse to put on a coat before going outside, we don't need to argue with them but allow them to get cold outside. If your child decides to throw a screaming tantrum we simply leave the room. We as parents need to decide what we are going to do, not what we are going to make our children do.
According to Nelson there are 4 R's of logical consequences for misbehavior; it must be Related to the misbehavior, it must be Respectful (no lecturing or making our children feel worse), it must be Reasonable and it must be Revealed in advance. This is where family meetings come into play. Discuss issues that need attention and allow your children to contribute to the discussion. They may have far better ideas than we do on what logically should be done about their own misbehavior's.
On the flip side there are also 4 R's of punishment. These are Resentment, Revenge, Rebellion and Retreat or Reduced self-esteem. If our children respond in any of these ways, we know we've mistakenly doled out punishment rather than Positive Discipline. If this happens, it is an excellent opportunity to model the 3 R's of recovery from mistakes. By modeling this behavior when we make mistakes we are teaching our children to do the same. The 3 R's of recovery are - Recognize (wow, I made a mistake), Reconcile (apologize) and Resolve (let's work on a solution together).
Nelson states that children who misbehave naturally hold 4 mistaken beliefs and mistaken goals of behavior.
- Undue Attention - I belong only when I have your attention.
- Misguided Power - I belong only when I'm the boss.
- Revenge - I don't belong but at least I can hurt back.
- Assumed Inadequacy - It is impossible to belong. I give up.
If your children are misbehaving it's recommended that you first make sure everyone has had a chance to calm down before discussing the behavior; parents and children alike. Parents should take some time to find out which of the above mistaken beliefs your children are holding. Sometimes asking curiosity questions can help you find out this information. Once you know where the behavior is really coming from you can begin the process of Positive Discipline.
Nelson explains the 4 steps of winning cooperation and the 4 criteria of effective discipline:
4 steps for winning cooperation
- Express understanding for the child's feelings.
- Show empathy without condoning (you can understand the child's perception but do not need to agree with it or condone it).
- Share your feelings and perceptions.
- Invite the child to focus on a solution.
The 4 criteria for effective discipline
- Is it kind and firm at the same time? (Respectful and encouraging).
- Does it help children feel a sense of belonging and significance? (Connection).
- It is effective long-term?
- Does it teach valuable social and life skills for good character? (respect, concern for others, problem solving, accountability, contribution, cooperation).
These steps can help calm you child down and allow them to come into a more receptive state of mind so they can contribute to finding a solution that will work for everyone. They are also a good set of guidelines for parents to make sure you are staying in the Positive Discipline state of mind and not returning to the old system of punishment. Beginning this journey certainly isn't easy but if you give it 30 days the improvement will convince you that the time and work is well worth it.
When I was first introduced to Positive Discipline at my son's Montessori school it just seemed so natural a practice. It reminded me of my earlier years of discovery towards my current spiritual path. The people I met, the teachers and mentors that came into my life guided me on a path of creative expression, exploration, questioning everything and finding the best way for me. There was no right or wrong, just diverse and new opportunities to learn from others. Mistakes were made and solutions found. I'd never experienced a spiritual system that was so freeing, without harsh rules and restrictions, without damnation and sin. Everything in life, in nature, in existence was and still is an opportunity to learn and grow. This is the Positive Discipline way of parenting. I know how amazing I felt with this kind of learning environment, I want the same for my children.
For more information on Positive Discipline visit http://www.positivediscipline.com/.
*I use the term pagan to represent those faiths and spiritual practices that do not fall under the traditional Judeo-Christian spectrum. This term is not meant to exclude or offend any religious or spiritual practitioners.