Discipline: When to Enforce, When to Have Grace

 “What is best for the child is not always what is most convenient for the parent.”  
~ Bonnie Bedford

My son turned 21-months-old two days ago. Tonight was the first time he ever folded his arms while telling me “no” as he stood in his high chair after I had told him to sit on his bum during dinner. As soon as dinner was done, I got the kids washed up and into jammies. Again, my son defied me when I tried to put him into his bed. Even though he was fed, clean, warm, and had his beloved “blankie,” he was still so very upset. The problem? He wanted to wear his sneakers to bed…

 Parenting little ones can all too often include power struggles over whose way something is going to get done–including if we are going to listen to mommy and sit during dinner, or if mommy is going to give in and let us stand while we eat! How do you foster independence and self reliance while still raising a child who knows how to obey and be respectful–and who doesn’t feel entitled because he always gets his way? And how do you know which things to let go of, and which things to enforce? These tips will help you decipher this very question.

1) Uncover your motivation. What is the reason behind what you are asking your child to do? If it’s a safety concern, then YES, you need to enforce your request and the child needs to obey immediately or have consequences appropriate to the situation/child/age. If safety is NOT a concern, then move to Tip #2.

2) Make sure it isn’t a power struggle for you. Sometimes, let’s face it, we want to enforce an idea of what our child should do because we want to “win.” For some reason, it seems perfectly logical in the moment, but not so logical as I write this and think about myself facing off with a kid who can’t even talk yet. Isn’t teaching our child self control, love, and respect of more importance than teaching them to obey without question? Don’t get me wrong; I want my child to be able to obey without question, because it could save her life some day. I also, though, want her to be able to reason and not just blindly follow someone, because the ability to reason could save her life later on when I’m not there. I also want my child to know that I will consider her feelings and thoughts, but that I will also enforce what I feel is the best decision for her (at least at this age!). 

3) It ultimately comes down to this: do you want to enforce something because it’s good for your child, or because it’s good for you? What is the issue at stake, and does it really matter? There will be times when you need to stick to your guns simply because your child is learning to obey. Other times, you need to show grace and allow your child to do it “his” way because it’s an issue that really doesn’t matter and allowing him to choose helps his development in some way.

For us tonight, my son sat during dinner and wore his sneakers to bed.

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