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Sunday
Jan292012

Family Rhythms – A Powerful Way to Simplify Discipline

 

photo: eva lempert

by Andrea Danneker, M.A.

Before we became parents, we dreamed of holding our newborn child in our arms, the joys that new parenthood would bring, the siblings to follow, the person he or she would become.  This is where the journey began.  Yet somehow the reality of family life doesn't always measure up to our expectations. Even though we may know that parenting is a tough job and will require us to discipline our children, no one ever anticipates the feelings of frustration and vulnerability that come with it.  Yet this has become a common experience amongst many parents today, steeped in guilt for not being able to handle their children as well as they think they should.  But there is hope.

There is no doubt that families today deal with a lot of stress and that parenting can be pretty overwhelming.  Truthfully, there is no one “right answer,” nor can there be since each child comes into the world with his or her own unique set of needs.  However, as Kim John Payne highlights in his popular book Simplicity Parenting, there is one very powerful way of simplifying discipline in your home – increase your family rhythms.   Not only will you see your child relax, but establishing predictable rhythms will allow you to discipline less.  Imagine that – something that requires less of you.

What are family rhythms?

Family rhythms are the things we do every day, automatically, without thinking – a pattern of behavior that is established through frequent repetition.  In other words, it is our habit life.  Rhythm says there is order, there is predictability, and there is reliability.  For children, having a rhythmic family life is like growing their roots deep into the earth.  It provides security and strength as they expand and grow so as the winds pick up, they can hold strong and weather the storm.  They can venture off and freely explore with the safety of knowing their world, where they’ve come from, and what’s in store when they return.  It says “we always do this because it is important” and it develops strong will forces that guide the child to do what is needed or necessary.  This deep sense of “we are” that a child receives from a predictable family life eventually then transforms into a clear sense of who “I am.”  It creates a grounded and confident child and eventually, adult.

 

Some families lack rhythm in their daily lives out of pure busyness.  For others, it is a conscious decision made out of the desire to create flexible children.  And then there are some parents who just enjoy spontaneity and feel restricted by predictability.  Regardless of its origin, families’ daily lives have become a series of decisions to make (for both parent and child) about what to do next or how to handle an issue, where habit is absent and everything becomes a thinking activity.  Ronald Morrish, in his helpful book Secrets of Discipline, says this is why children so often counter our directions with “Why should I?  What will I get if I do?  And what will happen if I don’t?”  Parents are left to think of the answers while children are collecting information (a cost benefit analysis) so they can decide if the task is worth the effort.  The problem is that as soon as children start to mull over rules and directions, many of them will either act impulsively or decide to do what is beneficial for themselves rather than what is right or needed in the situation.  This complicates discipline and requires more from the parent.  In short, a lack of family rhythm requires parents and children to think more, do more, talk more, and give more effort, which, quite frankly, is exhausting and not surprisingly overwhelming for both parent and child.  Everyone needs moments during each day where they can turn off the thinking part of the brain and relax a little.

For some parents, the mere idea of establishing new family rhythms can add a whole new layer of pressure.  Right now you may be feeling everything but relaxed as you contemplate fitting all the pieces of your family life into any kind of framework.  It is true.  This does involve a parent to pull in a bit, rearrange things, and invite the idea of letting some things go, but a small investment on a parent’s part will produce a lifetime of good habits and gradually replace the need to discipline with an opportunity for the family to connect. 

Certain habits are desirable like getting dressed in the morning, clearing  plates after a meal, and brushing teeth at night, but not everything needs to be treated as a habit.  We don’t want our children to be machines.  Remember, this is about creating moments during the day where the parent no longer has to direct (once the rhythm is established) and the child does it without thinking.  In other words, it comes from within. 

Where to begin

Morrish suggests some areas where parents might consider building good habits for children are:

  • Around routines – such as bedtime, mealtimes, and getting ready for school
  • Times of the day that involve health – such as bathing, brushing teeth, and washing hands.
  • Times of the day that involve responsibilities – such as chores,  care of toys, and cleaning up after oneself

An attempt to change the pulse of an entire day will surely bring discouragement.  In fact, I encourage you to begin with a time of day where there is already some sense of regularity – meals and bedtime is often a good place to start.  Choose basic activities that could be made more consistent, and work up from there. 

  • If your family always sits down for breakfast together, consider adding gesture for when it’s polite to begin – a simple gathering of hands with the words “Bon Appetit”! 
  • Light a candle to snuff at the close of story time. 
  • As you say good night, introduce a simple verse “There goes the sun.  Today is done.  See you tomorrow, my love.”  
  • Reflect on the idea of establishing regular meals – pasta on Mondays, salad bar on Tuesdays, stir fry on Wednesdays, and so on.  

When my children get home from school, they automatically change into some fresh “after-school clothes” and wash their hands.  Why?  Because we always do.  Somehow knowing exactly what to do when they get home plants their feet firmly on the ground as they transition back into home life.  It says, “I am home and all is well.” It is quick, simple, and deeply rooted by repetition.        

Start small.  Begin by refreshing a current routine or bringing in just one or two new moments in the day that are the same.  Your closeness, insistence, and follow through will be needed for the first couple of weeks as you establish the new habit before your child is able to do the task without thinking.   Children may need a little “re-training” from time to time as they will test you to see if things remain the same.  Trust me, children want your answer to be “yes, it is still the same.”  And when it is, they will relax and so will you. 

Give it a try.  I suspect that in no time at all your child will be reminding you that it is time to light the dinner candle or say the morning verse.  It will soon become a moment that you both will look forward to – a moment that can be counted on, a moment free from negotiations, a moment to connect.

Simple Ideas to Strengthen the Pulse of an Activitybendingbirches.blogspot.com

Light a candle 

Sing a simple song at the beginning or end 

Say a verse, blessing, or prayer before 

Do it together 

Ring a bell 

Gather Hands 

Establish an order


Sample Bedtime Rhythm 

Bath 

Pajamas 

Lay clothes out for tomorrow 

Brush teeth 

Read a book 

Song 

Lights out


Simple Morning Rhythm – remember, establishing the order can strengthen the rhythm 

Open shades 

Get dressed 

Make bed 

Breakfast 

Brush teeth and hair 

Shoes on for school 

Grab lunch 

Out the door

Andrea Danneker, M.A., Simplicity Parenting Coach, helps families design and implement the changes they’d like to make in their home life and family interactions to bring more calm and enjoyment.  To inquire about working with Andrea or to invite her to speak, please contact her at andrea@simplicityparenting.com and visit www.yourparentingjourney.com.

 

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