Last night, I was talking with a friend who has four kids ranging from seven to 18 months. As I tend to do whenever the opportunity presents itself lately, I picked her brain a little about discipline. I’ve been struggling to find “consequences” for Sam that are actually significant to him, but that don’t tear him down and, ultimately, teach him and grow him. When I shared this with my friend, her response prompted a sort-of parenting “lightbulb moment” for me…
In our discussion, she recounted a period she went through with her daughter (who is Sam’s age) recently where they just weren’t seeing eye to eye at all. Then, one day, out of the blue, her little girl asked her: “Mommy, what can I do for you?!?” It was really just a simple question, but it meant SO much to my friend. She said she actually teared up a little as she responded to the question and thanked her daughter profusely for thinking of her in that way. And from then, almost miraculously, their relationship began to change… When my friend told her daughter how much that meant to her and praised her for her kindness, she immediately responded to it by wanting to be kinder. Since she’d never been one to be affected by time-outs or the loss of privileges, my friend was thrilled to discover that the more she affirmed her daughter’s good behaviors, the better she behaved. From this experience, she was reminded of the book The Five Love Languages; and, by revisiting it with regards to each of her children, she’s made lots of positive changes in the way she parents.
Just in case you weren’t part of the evangelical church culture of the late 1990s/early 2000s that made this book super famous – “love languages” refer to five basic ways in which people give and receive love. According to author and pastor Gary Chapman, the five love languages are: quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch. The premise, then, of the book is that we tend to naturally give love in the way we prefer to receive it, BUT, by understanding someone else’s love language and showing them love in that way, we are actually able to strengthen that relationship and love others better.
So what does this have to do with parenting and discipline?
Well, my friend clearly has the love language of “acts of service.” As a busy homeschooling mom, she was serving her family (and, thus, loving them in the most natural way possible for her) by teaching them, fixing meals, doing laundry, cleaning up messes, etc. etc. AND, in return, she was expecting her kids to love her in the same way – by doing what she asked. BUT, as it turns out, even at only five years old, her daughter already has a “love language” of her own – “words of affirmation.” It wasn’t until they were able to discover each other’s love languages that they were able to connect. Likewise, my friend reported, knowing her daughter’s love language also helped her to determine what form of discipline is most effective for her… Now, when her daughter behaves in a way that warrants a consequence of some sort, my friend knows that telling her she is hurt by her behavior has a much greater impact than sending her to her room or giving the silent treatment to show her she is upset. Are you with me?
As we talked, so much began to click for me about my relationship with Sam right now. In particular, I thought about an instance last week when I asked our babysitter to stay with Nora for an extra 15 minutes so Sam and I could take a walk around the block together and “discuss” a bad choice he had made at school that day. I thought I was being a great mom… We were talking and connecting; I was focusing on his heart and not just his behavior. I was doing everything “right.” We walked hand-in-hand and Sam dutifully responded to my questions about why he had done what he did, offered an apology, and said he wouldn’t do it again. When we got home, I gave him a hug and told him it was done. Over. I thought I’d “handled” the issue.
Then… Can you guess where this is going? Three days later, he did the same thing again!! I was so surprised and frustrated!! And, to top it off, this time, he was anxiously waiting for me to get home so we could “take our walk and talk.”
I was loving (and disciplining) Sam the way that I experience love – through words of affirmation; but, as I realized last night, it was all wrong for him… Sam’s love language is apparently “quality time” – so this unexpected and uninterrupted time with mom was a welcome treat for him, NOT a punishment.
Please be gentle with me in your judgement of my parenting techniques here… I’m still just figuring this all out and processing for myself… But I think I’m on to something:
I’ve been busy building Sam up with my words; when, really, all he wants is my time. Though there’s no real harm in continuing to speak affirmation over his little heart and life, he would experience my love so much more intimately by playing a game together or going on a special “date” just the two of us. This also explains why our reading and cuddling time at night is so precious to him. AND, in regards to my current struggle over discipline, it explains why taking away his reading/cuddling time is FAR more meaningful to him than hearing me say that his behavior is “disappointing” or even than an extended time out or the loss of a favorite toy.
Honestly, I don’t know if I’m making any sense here, but I wanted to process, and I thought some of you might take something away from my lessons too. I’ve known about The Five Love Languages for more than a decade and even frequently consider them in my relationships with Jeff, my family, and some of my friends; BUT, until last night, I’d never thought about them with my kids. I certainly don’t think this solves all of my problems or answers all of my questions when it comes to discipline, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Now, to figure out Nora’s love language… currently, I’m thinking “strawberries” and “clean diapers.” 😉
I’d love to hear some of your (gentle) thoughts and opinions. Do you apply the five love languages in your parenting? What is your love language? Your kids?
P.S. Gary Chapman is not related to me, and this post is not sponsored in any way shape or form. He does have a book out specifically about kids, but there’s also a lot of information on his website for free!
P.S.S. This reminded me of a recent podcast episode of The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey where she talks with Jana Magruder of Lifeway about gospel-centered parenting. I have a LONG way to go, but it definitely speaks to a lot of my heart/goals for raising my kids.
P.S.S.S. See this post for more of my “discipline” journey in parenting.
Love this. All of it. What an eye opener!
I am FAR from a gentle parent, but I’ve seen a lot of value to the love languages approach in discipline. My oldest is a quality time kid. If he has to “miss out” on all of us together or meaningful time via time-out, it definitely impacts his behavior. He’s also a gifts kid so the loss of precious toys, etc sends the message that his behavior was unacceptable.
My little guy is a touch kid. This is a difficult one to navigate because he likes to play victim and receive cuddles to soothe his poor, victimized soul. It feels cruel (and unbelievably NOT gentle), but I often won’t offer him cuddles when he’s simply blowing situations with his brother out of proportion or acting out.
Obviously, it’s a work in progress. There are days I want to lock the three year old in his room and call it good, but consistency is a word my husband and I chant to ourselves. So we keep on keepin on.
Not a mom…duh, but working as a behavior specialist for the past 9 years has taught me LOTS about kids, especially when it comes to what works for punishment/reward. Whenever I get a new client, I always do a modified love languages test, combined with a forced choice menu (focus is on reinforcement)…it makes SUCH a huge difference in understanding what makes my kids tick…what they’re willing to work for etc. I will also re-do the test every quarter or so, since preferences change. I also always encourage other people in their lives (parents, teachers, admin etc) to figure out of this kid if a reward kid, or a consequence kid…which one means more to them? Earning something they have been looking forward to, or having something taken away (or words of affirmation vs the “disappointed” talk). I think it’s hard for little kids (sams age and under) to truly understand the impact of “disappointed” whereas, for an adult (or maybe just me lol) that’s the most gut wrenching.. I think kids get “disappointed” mixed up with angry…when really they are SUCH different things! Anyway- I’m rambling. Sam is amazing. You are amazing. Love you
Julie Mulvaney says
WOW!! Kathryn, what an amazing response! You are such an excellent counselor and aunt!! E, I understand your struggles, because I struggle all the time with how to sometimes respond to things you girls ask me!! I know I make you both mad, and I still don’t know how to correctly respond to your “being upset” with me!
But on another funny note… did anyone watch the new comedy on ABC last night called Housewives? So funny!! the moms method of discipline was hysterical, she made her kid give a percentage of his money in a piggy bank to a good cause when he did something wrong or got in trouble! then she and the kid bartered back and forth… you had to have seen it, and he was older than Sam! All parents struggle with discipline, and trying to figure out meaningful consequences for their kids. I surely did, but whatever i did, I must have done it right – look at my girls!!
I think Sam truly loves quality time spent with his parents, grandparents, and others that love him. He loves to talk, and try and figure things out, which is so cool!! Letting him have his time to explain and solve situations will serve him well in his future. He is so lucky to have such loving, giving parents, that love to see him learn and grow, that I don’t think anything you do to either he or Nora will be the wrong approach. I am a braggy mom and gigi!! Also a words of affirmation gal, BIG TIME:)
This is so good, and true. I began thinking about this in terms of C being really extroverted and hating to spend time alone or away from us at night. Since I’ve recognized this, it really has helped me discipline him better. Like Sam, he doesn’t care if I tell him not to kick me, or to use his words, or that I don’t like that. BUT, if I put him in his room by himself he’ll change his attitude QUICK. Like y’all, the threat of taking away his bedtime story will also help him get it together.
Your heart for wanting to guide his behavior to help him grow into a loving, kind kid is so obvious, E! Discipline is a necessary part of that and I applaud you for taking the time to think about how that is best for Sam!
Love this! I read his book for kids last year in our mops group and it was so good!! He brought up a lot of interesting things and ways to love and discipline your kids! I recommend it!
ME AGAIN! 🙂
I just read this on a counseling website that I use sometimes, and thought you may find it interesting,
The Seven Skills of Discipline are the only skills we need to transform these everyday discipline issues into teaching moments. These moments are our opportunity to teach children the social-emotional and communication skills necessary to manage themselves, resolve conflict, prevent bullying and develop pro-social behaviors.
The seven skills are Composure, Encouragement, Assertiveness, Choices, Empathy, Positive Intent and Consequences.
It goes on to say that if these skills are used correctly, it can yield some really teachable moments with kids about their own core values, etc. They have it set up in a chart:
Conscious Skill- Composure
Life/Communication Skill- Anger management/gratification delay
Conscious skills- Encouragement
Life/Communication Skill- Pro-social skills (kindness, caring, helpfulness)
Value- Optimism, gratitude
Conscious skill- Assertiveness
Life/Communication Skill- Bully prevention, healthy boundaries
Value- Respect for self and others
Conscious skill- Choices
Life/Communication Skill- Impulse control, goal achievement
Conscious skill- Empathy
Life/Communication skill- Emotional regulation, perspective taking
Value- Honoring diversity, honesty
Conscious Skill- Positive intent
Life/Communication Skill- Cooperation, problem solving
Value- generosity, compassion
Conscious Skill- Consequences
Life/Communication Skill- Learn from mistakes