Child Correction for Beginners (namely, me)

It happened today. Rose got up on a chair to reach a banana, and toppled onto the floor. I had told her umpteen times not to climb on that chair, and I lost my temper and spoke to her in anger. The combination of concern for her well being and guilt that I had not gotten there sooner led to my sudden outburst. After I had made sure she was ok and put all the girls in bed, I collapsed in my bed, thinking that I needed some serious help in the area of my children’s discipline. Now that I have a three year old and a two year old, disobedience is rearing its ugly head and I don’t know how to deal with it. Like the answer to an unsaid prayer, I saw on my nightstand the slim black volume that my mother had given me months ago. I picked it up and perused it.

It is entitled, “Mother’s Manual: Prayers and Advice for Catholic Mothers” by A. Francis Coomes, S. J. In it was a chapter entitled, “Child Correction.” My interest was piqued. I found a paragraph that I liked.

Obedience is a great virtue of childhood. Of the Christ Child we are told: “He was subject to them [Mary and Joseph].” Obedience should be insisted on, and respect for parents in their proper exercise of authority should be demanded. But this respect will hardly be fostered unless the parents merit it by their conduct.

Well, I liked it until that last sentence. Merit my children’s respect by my conduct? What does that even mean? Well, Coomes tells me.

Neither commands nor corrections should ever be given with a show of anger or with shouting that shows irritation. It is always a mistake to correct a child in a hasty manner or with a show of temper or anger. It is even more a mistake to strike a child in a fit of anger.

It all makes perfect sense, but to see it in print for some reason strengthened my resolve to make this a priority and not fail my kids again. It went on to say that if a punishment is administered in anger, the child will recognize only the anger and not the reason for the punishment. The child will be antagonized and will feel justified in her rebellion instead of profiting from your correction. If, however, the correction is administered with the proper calm and dignity, the child may then realize she has done wrong but is still loved. But the question remains, how do I make sure I always maintain the proper calm when my children are disobedient and do wrong?

Above all, a parent should learn to pray for light and guidance in the office of child correction. Hasty words cannot be unsaid, and hasty actions cannot be undone. A moment of deliberation and prayer often makes the difference between a hasty and futile correction and a well-administered and profitable one.

Children look to us (that is, their parents) as an example and guide of right and wrong, and that is a weighty responsibility. From now on, I am going to pray that I fulfill this duty according to God’s will and stop, take a breath, and say a quick prayer if I feel myself losing my fiery Cuban temper. Worthy discipline will bring my child closer to me and both of us closer to God. And I must endeavor to keep my pride and selfishness at bay as well. Because we may not realize it, but those little ones are always watching us, and pick up on many peccadilloes (or serious sins) that we hope go unnoticed.

The book also stressed never saying words of anger to your spouse in front of the children, no matter what age they are. It is important on the occasion that angry words bubble up to keep a patient silence (NOT an angry silence) and wait to discuss it in private, if necessary. Marital discord makes children feel like their security is at risk (with good reason).

I really appreciated this gold mine of familial wisdom, but oy! I have so much to work on. It is helpful to have all this written out in an easy outline so that I can consult it at will. I hope it proves fruitful for you, as well. What is your advice on child discipline? I love tapping into the brain trust of mommy wisdom.

Lately, when Ruth has done something that she knows is wrong, she will cautiously approach me to confess her wrongdoing but always asks first, “Are you a mean mama or a nice mama?” It always releases the tension and makes me giggle. From now on, girls, I will strive to be a firm but kind mama, and to lead by example. But as soon as you are old enough, I am going to ask you to pray for mama. I am going to need it!

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About sylcell

Wife, mom of four girls, Catholic, insatiable sweet tooth
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30 Responses to Child Correction for Beginners (namely, me)

  1. Courtney says:

    this may be a daily struggle here. I’m working hard on *not* yelling in anger. one of my weaknesses. you’re definitely not alone here. the way we discipline our children says a lot to them, and a lot of the time I don’t want them to see me like that and remember me like that. here’s to being better and doing better!

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  2. This is soooo helpful! The boys (Finley especially) is already pushing the limits! It is hard to know how to discipline. It is so much easier said than done! Praying that you continue to be a strong awesome mama!

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  3. katylady says:

    This is sooooo apropos for me right now…Mummy’s patience is worn threadbare with a very articulate, determined and relentless preschooler and a toddler who is hardcore hitting the terrible twos about 6 months ahead of schedule. It’s a combination of mental exhaustion trying to satisfy the 3 year old (I never knew what a total screw up I was til my mini-manager came along) and physical exhaustion as I haul an extra 30 lbs (i.e., baby #3) around as I try to keep up with the little sister–the climber of tables, the emptier of drawers, the jumper, the tantrum thrower. I’ve blown up at my oldest before, and been able to apologize and explain what I didn’t like about her behavior (she also does the pitiful, “Are you happy, Mummy?” check-in after I’ve simmered down–heartbreaking). But last week I blew up at my baby, and that’s seriously not OK. She doesn’t *really* know what I’m saying, all she hears is anger, and all that equals is fear. This is something Daddy and I are trying to coach each other on (well, he’s coaching me), we’re praying over it, and I’m trying to lighten my load so I have more unstructured time to just “be” with my kids, instead of trying to multitask and clear my to-do list. Hugs and kisses help too!

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    • sylcell says:

      I know how you feel! I am always in such a rush to discipline, if I feel myself gritting my teeth, I know I am too angry to correct them. Prayer is SO helpful, even if it is just a ten second one. “Sweet Jesus, PLEASE keep me from killing this child!” (Just kidding, that isn’t the prayer;)

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  4. Claire says:

    I was a pretty wild little kid, and I got in trouble A LOT. My mom (childhood education major, preschool teacher) always said to me, “I love you, but I don’t like what you did.” She did an amazing job teaching unconditional love to me and my sister, and I was blessed to have a mother who reinforced that message from a very early age. Differentiation between the child and the behavior is so important, although in the heat of the moment it’s easy to forget!

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  5. This is so hard!! Oh, it’s just so hard for me to do. I fail every day with at least one of them–especially with the 7 and 9 year old. Poor dears. Caleb says I was so nice, until I became their teacher. :/ Thanks for writing honestly about this. It’s a tough subject to talk about.

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  6. You have no idea how timely this post was. I literally did the exact same thing this evening when Evie insisted that she should not only hold but open a bottle of vegetable oil. Um. No. Not cleaning that one up. But of course, when we are going on minute 10 of screaming about the bottle of oil, I begin to lose my mind and wish that she could understand why I won’t let her have it rather than glare at me. And also of course, I feel guilty immediately. I will look into that book. I need all the help I can get right now, and that sounds just perfect. Too bad a glass of wine is not an option because that could be really nice right now πŸ˜‰ Hang in there, mama!

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    • sylcell says:

      LOL, right? I am comforting myself with a mug of hot cocoa instead. Does not help that when people ask Rosie about the bruise on her face, she says “I fell out of a chair. Mama yelled at me.” Thanks, kid. Make me feel guilty all over again. It is a fantastic book, I highly recommend it. There is one for fathers too.

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      • morgan says:

        Sorry, your daughter is hilarious!!! πŸ˜€
        But also it saddens me that this is what she learned out of that situation.
        Right before I fell asleep yesterday I remembered those countless times I warned my kids about various dangers (like climbing the backrest of their high chairs!) and they did it again and again… until IT happened. Whatever that is I warned them about. Our eldest fell off said backrest and landed about 1.5m deeper with the back of his head on the tiled floor – both hubby and me weren’t fast enough. One of the worst noices I EVER heard. Thank God we already had a doctors appointment scheduled about half an hour later so we let her check that one out, too.
        What he learned from this experience: sitting on the backrest and dangling your feet => no good idea.
        I made my peace with situations like that. I CANNOT prevent them from all injuries. I can warn them about the dangers and if they choose to not listen to me than they have to learn the hard way. Sounds harsher than it is, but it is part of the learning process. Theirs, and mine. So I try to stay calm, be alert to catch falling kids and if I can’t, be prepared to comfort them, have the fridge stocked on cooling pads, the medicine cabinet on band-aids in various sizes and patterns (“I NEED band-aid this big. The one with the cats on it”)…

        Says the mom who is fighting with her 20month old over the beverages pitcher on a more or less daily basis πŸ˜€
        (he wants to pour himself, just like his siblings. Unfortunately, neither is he already strong enough to hold a pitcher of beverage nor has he gained the fine motor skills to actually NOT miss the glass nor has he any sense of when to stop pouring. but he NEEDS that pitcher. Every try to help him ends in the contents of the pitcher anywhere but inside his glass. He pulls and shakes that pitcher when you try to wrestle it out of his hands, spilling its contents, and once he was so angry that when I gave up and told myself that it’s not worth fighting over it since I already had to mop the kitchen floor due to the spills he just made, he threw that pitcher through the kitchen!!! Thank god it was made of plastic! And he ended up being in tears because his clothes were wet. Duh. Really, boy? What did you expect?)

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      • sylcell says:

        Yeah, it is hard to give up on the battle of wills with the toddlers, but they will beat you at it every time. I have just been letting Wren feed herself and have resigned myself to the mess, because I just can’t fight with her over the spoon every meal time, lol. And I hate when they get hurt, but there really is nothing you can do about it. We are not omnipresent. My poor husband always learns this the hard way when he is watching them and someone gets hurt. He feels so bad, and I have to assure him it is no one’s fault. It still breaks your heart, though!

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  7. morgan says:

    Oh my. I still have a lot to learn. I’m a emotional person. And some of my kids are, too. Makes that whole “stay calm” thing so much harder.
    I often consult with our kindergarten teachers and a close friend of mine – all of them have degrees in education (most of them specialised in infancy and kids to the age of 6).
    They all gave me different advice on different things but had one opinion in common:
    Be authentic. Because they feel when you are “not yourself” and react accordingly. Like acting out. Or fearing you.
    I have my outbursts. But I work on verbalizing them differently and not accusing them, but telling what angers me in that moment. Like e.g. having to mop the kitchen floor again, because that’s something I definitely DO NOT like to do. And after every slip I make sure that I apologize for yelling at them and tell them that I love them no matter what.
    For me that is extremely important. And I heard that one also from different other people that the most important thing kids can get from their parents is the feeling of being loved. Unconditionally. That you don’t love them less because they (again) did that stupid thing you told them hundreds of times not to. And that they know that they can count on you and come to you with everything.

    But in the end all we can do is hope and pray that we raise them to be great persons AND that they will one day say that we are wonderful parents.
    And by the way: at some point (most probably during they teens or early twens) they WILL tell you that you did everything wrong. πŸ˜‰

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  8. Jen says:

    When my kiddos were small I made a simple list of rules (obey mom and dad, no fighting, no fits, be kind) and a list of consequences for rule breaking. This helped me keep my peace and helped them understand. “Uh oh, you’re breaking the kindness rule. You’ll have to have a time out. Better not break it again or you’ll have to go to nap time early…” This was so very good for us.

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    • sylcell says:

      Oh, what a good idea! The bickering between my two Irish twins is near constant, though . . . . . What kind of punishment was there for a frequent offense?

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      • Jen says:

        First offense of the day was a warning time out, 1 min per year of age. Second rule break (didn’t have to be the same rule) was loss of after dinner dessert (usually fruit or a popsicle – could be a chocolate chip – if others get it and you don’t it’s soooo sad), third rule break was early bed time, fourth was loss of a major privilege (playdate or favorite toy or such), fifth was total blackout (no toys, books, or fun of any kind for the whole day – we never got that far). I kept a chart of these – the naughty chart. Each day was a clean slate. We also had an “earn it back” opportunity. Good behavior can result in removal of punishments – so you can earn back your dessert by being especially kind to your sister. The rules and the naughty chart were on the fridge for all to see. It honestly changed my life. Instead of getting angry and threatening and trying to come up with some terrible punishment on the spot it was already in place. It also puts the responsibility on them for their behavior. For your littles you could make more immediate consequences and a clean slate for morning and afternoon. Now that my kids are older they do chores when they break rules – keeps them busy longer. Hope that helps!

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      • sylcell says:

        Thank you so much! Sounds like a lot to keep track of, but so helpful. You have to do what you have to do! No one ever said parenting is going to be easy.

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  9. It is so hard to discipline while we are calm. Because 9 times out of 10, when one of the kids do something naughty, I am very angry when I discipline. My biggest thing is consistency. the more consistent I am, the more level headed I am because the kids know the expectations. Some kids have a harder learning curve than others, though. πŸ˜‰ Sounds like you are on the right track!

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  10. Sara says:

    Love this. A struggle we are facing as well! It’s always a V8 smack to the head when I immediately feel guilty and uncomfortable after I lash out in anger at keelin’s bad behavior. It’s obvious god’s intentions when untrusting me with these babies was to parent with love. Not only that, I’m rinsed that man (my children and I included) were created in HIS image… One that shouldn’t be soiled with anger and hatred. I do feel a raised voice can be appropriate when catching your child doing something dangerous to thaw loves or others. Again not in anger but to alert them of danger. Thank you for sharing your struggle (it’s nice knowing I’m not alone) and for sharing the book you turned to!!! I’ll be adding it to my Christmas list!

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    • sylcell says:

      It is a really great book. It has some wonderful prayers in it as well. It says a raised voice or even corporal punishment can be appropriate in certain very serious circumstances if it comes from a calm and in control place instead of an angry place. Very interesting stuff.

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  11. Kathya says:

    I was raised on spankings out of anger. and even though, I knew It was wrong because it hurt me physically, I was able to learn to respect my parents and any other older person.
    When I was a first time, I had the most challenging time finding what was right for me and my then, only child Faith. She certainly got the worst of me as a novice mom. I have spanked, I have yelled, etc. none of it helped but for her to be afraid of me. I continuously prayed that those two things would be erased from my brain so I can start over. it took many, many, many months of learning self control to finally say that neither spanking or yelling is happening in this home. Both are truly some ugly habits, very hard to eliminate.
    Faith is now old enough and has always been mature enough to understand the reasoning behind discipline(to teach). We thrived on time outs, and now, it is “excuse yourself for a while until you are ready to be part of the family”. so they all do. They all go to their rooms and sit there for a while to either let go of anger and frustration with another sister or because injustice might be happening. We also have charts, for chores around the house, but there are certain things that they know are part of being a family and not an “earning” thing, like clearing up the living room, setting up the table, clearing the table or helping with small things like bringing the vacuum to mama and such.
    I most certainly when disciplining the girls, I have learn to change the tone of my voice so they can listen to what I have to say, and they recognize that tone.
    For smaller children, with do redirecting. it is a lifesaver since the little ones cant reason like older children.
    We also do lecturing with Faith. She struggles to obey her dad so I talk to her about obedience and how God commands that on us. I make sure she knows that although he is not home much because he is providing for us, he deserves the same respect as me.
    it is a daily work. it never ends. Children need consistency and lots of patient from their parents. πŸ™‚

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