Disciplining In Love
“Love looks out for the interests of another; so does discipline. So discipline is certainly an act of love. And the more a child feels loved, the easier it is to discipline that child.”
Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell begin chapter eight of ‘The Five Love Languages of Children’ reiterating that every aspect of a relationship with our kids is easier when they feel loved, including discipline.
Personally, with three kids under seven, I feel like we’ve tried every discipline approach under the sun. We’ve used time-outs, going to the corner, rewards for good behavior, consequences for bad behavior, and the “mama means business” tone.
For us, different discipline approaches seem to work best for different children. Raising our voices, for instance, makes one child more headstrong and the other incredibly sad.
While I know this is essentially because my kids are wired differently, reading through this book helped me dig deeper into that premise to understand which method works best for each child.
First, the book dives into why some discipline approaches don’t mesh well with certain love languages.
It gives an example of a father who works long hours. On the weekends, he mows, does housework, occasionally goes to football games, and works from his home office. His ten-year-old, whose primary love language is quality time, doesn’t see much of him and thus doesn’t feel very loved by his father.
When the weekend rolls around, his father is tired, easily annoyed by misbehavior, and discipline usually comes with harsh words in an angry voice. The boy begins to resent the discipline, has little desire to obey, and spends much of the weekend avoiding his dad.
The authors point out that harsh words and an angry tone would be more accepted by a child who feels secure in his father’s love. But because this boy’s “love tank” was empty, discipline means bitterness rather than responsibility. Since he did not feel loved, he began to see himself as an annoyance to his dad.
Questions to Ask Before Disciplining
To see which disciplinary method would be most effective, the authors propose asking two questions before disciplining a child:
- How does my child love?
The authors say, “When it (a child’s love tank) is on low or empty, the child is compelled to frantically ask, ‘Do you love me?’ How parents answer that question determines a great deal about the child’s behavior, since the main cause of misbehavior is an empty emotional tank.
When our children misbehave, the authors argue that we are asking the wrong question. When asking, “What can I do to correct the behavior?” the quick answer is punishment. If instead we asked, “What does this child need?” we allow ourselves to discipline more rationally.
- What does my child need when he misbehaves?
This question asks, “Does this child need her love tank filled?”
Seeing misbehavior as a plea for love can shift our response from anger to empathy and helps remind us that, after all, they are still children. The authors argue, “It doesn’t make sense to demand good behavior from a child without first making sure he feels loved.”
Framing Discipline with Love
The authors recommend framing our discipline with love. Just as we are taught to “Oreo” a critique with positive feedback, discipline is more readily received when it is framed with love.
For example, in the book a boy accidentally threw a baseball through his neighbor’s window. After his dad came home and found out what happened, he went to his room, gave him a shoulder rub, and asked how his day was.
The father then brought up the incident and how he hated to do this, but the boy would need to use his allowance money to fix the window and would not be able to play on his baseball team for two weeks. After his son apologized, the dad gave his son a hug, reiterated that he knew it was an accident, and told his son to come down for dinner when he was ready.
By practicing his son’s primary love language of touch before and after punishing, his child was better able to see the discipline as a consequence rather than an attack on his character.
Choosing the Right Form of Discipline
Understanding your child’s love language will help you choose the best form of discipline. In most cases, you shouldn’t use a form that is directly related to their love language.
Such discipline will not have the desired effect and may actually cause emotional pain. Rather than loving correction, the book points out it may feel like painful rejection.
For example, if your daughter’s primary love language is quality time, you don’t want to discipline by sending her to her room.
If their primary love language is touch, a tap on the butt may not be the most constructive approach.
The authors present five discipline approaches that can be tailored to each love language – making requests, issuing commands, gentle physical manipulation, punishment, and behavior modification. Grab a copy to learn what approach works best for your child.
A Summer Case Study
Summer is tough.
With my three- six- and seven-year old’s all at home, the noise is high, the mess is fierce, and the patience is low.
This past weekend, my husband and I had the chance to take our two older daughters on a trip to visit friends. We left our youngest girl with her grandparents, took a red-eye flight, and explored the Northwest a bit.
I was worried that landing past midnight would lead to tantrums, exploring a city by foot would be “too tiring,” and staying with a family with younger kids would be “boring.” Instead, our girls happily surprised us with amazing behavior.
Both of their primary love languages are quality-time and they enjoyed having one-on-one time with us so much that misbehavior was near non-existent.
As we approach this last month of summer, I am challenged by this book to learn to speak each child’s love language better to diminish misbehavior and change my misbehavior knee-jerk response from, “How many times do I have to tell you this?” to, “How can I better love this kid?”
I would highly recommend reading, “The Five Love Languages of Children’ to better love your children and, selfishly, to make parenthood and discipline just a bit easier.