When it comes to disciplining my kids, I try to keep in mind that I’m trying to change their behavioral pattern, not punish them for being "bad" or "wrong." I want them to grow up to be empathetic and kind and self-aware. Eventually, I hope that the discipline I provide as they grow up becomes absorbed into how they live their day-to-day lives, and that they become self-disciplined when I am no longer around to constantly guide their every move.
Part of the reason I want that self-discipline for them is because I feel like even as an adult, I am still working on building the sort of self-awareness and self-discipline I desire for my own life. Too often I feel like I’m not the grownup in charge of her emotions, or that I eat too many cookies without thinking about the consequences. I've never really thought to discipline myself like I do my kids, but I wondered if holding myself to those same "values" would help set me on a path to self-awareness and self-discipline.
I decided to spend a week trying to build the self-discipline I want by disciplining myself the same way I discipline my kids. I would treat myself with the same sort of rules and regulations I place on my own kids in hopes of shaping them to someday become responsible adults. I would take timeouts when I needed them, or take away treats and screen time when I felt like I was using them too much. I was hoping that some self-disciplining would make me more aware of areas I needed to improve on, spots in my life where I’m not the sort of responsible adult I’m training my kids to be.
On the first day of my experiment, I wasn’t really sure where to begin. How was I going to discipline myself? It’s not as if I normally have tantrums or break the rules, right? Well, it turns out, I do.
I am constantly correcting my kids’ tone of voice when talking to each other, making sure they don’t raise their voices or use a nasty tone with me or with each other. However, my tone goes unchecked. All. The. Time. When I snapped at them for asking the same question for the fifth or sixth time, I gave myself a timeout to get my attitude back in check. Sometimes I tell my kids they need to cool down and think about how they’re talking to others. Turns out, so do I.
Normally an outburst like that would have been hard to bounce back from. I find that once I lose my temper with them, I keep losing my temper with them throughout the day. It’s hard to hit that reset button once I lose my cool, and perhaps that’s in part because I don’t take that necessary time to calm down and check my emotional state. After my timeout, I felt like I was ready to get back into the role of being a "good" mom, and it was much easier to stay balanced in my emotions.
On day two of my experiment, I was feeling totally exhausted by lunchtime and didn’t want to take the time to make myself something to eat. I was eyeing the fridge willing myself to make something — anything — when I saw a chocolate bar I had hidden on the top shelf. I wanted it so badly but as soon as I grabbed for it, I stopped myself.
I don’t let my kids have treats, least of all when they are feeling cranky and hungry. Sure it would have satiated my hunger and boosted my mood for a minute, but ultimately, I would have been worse off. By forgoing the chocolate I had to make myself something real to eat, and I avoided the sugary crash that follows replacing my meals with candy. I felt like it was a small triumph of self-discipline, an act of restraint where I would normally indulge without thinking twice.
On day three, I was in a bit of a funk. There was no real reason for it. I simply didn’t want to do the things I needed to do, and I was procrastinating by constantly messing around with my phone: checking email when I didn’t need to be and scrolling social media mindlessly. In the afternoon, I realized I'd wasted most of my morning, which was putting me in an even worse mood. So I did what I would do with my kids and decided it was time to limit my screen time.
I know how cranky my kids get when they are in front of a screen for too long, and I make sure they get moving by doing other things, even when (especially when) they don’t want to. Limiting screen time for them is not about punishment, but making healthier choices to improve their moods As soon as I decided to dock my phone, I felt a little irritated, but once I'd been without it for an hour, I realized my mood was improving, and I was starting to get stuff done around the house. My funk was only enabled by my undisciplined screen time, so maybe I need to start setting stricter rules for myself.
The fourth day of my experiment went pretty smoothly, up until about an hour before my husband arrived home. The kids were having a meltdown afternoon where nothing seemed to go right, even though I was trying really hard to keep them entertained and fed all while not losing my patience. By the time my husband came home I was at the very end of my rope. So as soon as he decided to do some work in the garage when I was desperately wanting a little reprieve from my mothering duties, I majorly snapped at him to come help.
I didn’t even have to self-discipline, because my husband knew exactly what was going on. When I’m that far beyond reasoning, I need to have a snack and talk it out. Getting upset with him was totally illogical (it’s not like he was going to disappear for hours, he needed five minutes to work on a project I asked him to do), and a lot of my anger directed towards him was from hunger and exhaustion. A lot of the time, all my kids need is a gentle voice and a grilled cheese — and apparently I’m no different. I told my husband I was sorry for snapping at him and explained how my day had set me on edge — after eating the grilled cheese he made me, of course.
With my kids, someone is always asking me for something. Usually food. It's often all too easy for me to become distracted from whatever task is at hand, because I am constantly being interrupted. So on day five, when I had finally worked up the effort necessary to mop the kitchen floor (I seriously never mop the floors. It’s a serious problem), I hadn’t even put the wet wipe part on my Swiffer before I was asked to make a smoothie, and two pieces of jam covered toast, and get two fresh waters with ice. By the time I was done responding to all their requests, my drive to mop the floor had vanished.
However, instead of moving onto something else (because, let’s face it, there’s always something else to be done), I told myself I needed to finish the task at hand. I always make my kids clean up one thing before they move on to the next activity. It helps keep the house clean and also teaches them that once they commit to a certain activity, they need to see it through to the end (aka: clean-up time). If I’m teaching them to be responsible like this, it’s only right that I hold myself to the same standard. So I mopped the floor, and you know what? I felt really good about it, and my mind was free from the nagging feeling that I would've had if I'd left it undone. I was able to enjoy the time I spent with my kids afterwards without feeling guilty.
On day six of my experiment, I hit a stumbling block early in the day and got really frustrated when my older two woke the baby up from his morning nap. We had plans to do all this fun stuff: go to the park, tackle a few house projects, make food together. However, I wanted put a hold on all the fun because I was so angry that things weren’t going the way I wanted. I need the baby to nap for my sanity, and now that his morning nap was taken from me, I felt like the whole day was ruined.
When my kids get in moods like this, I always try to talk them down from the ledge. I want them to know no matter how angry or frustrated they are, we can still have a good rest of the day. Hitting the reset button can be so hard when emotions are running high, but it’s something I’m teaching them because I want them to have the power to turn their day around no matter what happens. So I told myself to stop dwelling on the missed nap and focus on what was ahead. Sure, the baby was a little more cranky, but my mood didn’t need to be bad also. We were still able to have a fun day, and in the end, one missed nap wasn't the end of the world.
On the last day of my experiment, I noticed the day was going far more smoothly than any of the previous ones. I was more aware of my emotional state and I was much more lenient about giving myself the time I needed to react appropriately, whether it was facing down the bowl of cookies dough I wanted to eat for breakfast, or waiting out a toddler tantrum without raising my voice. It looked like my self-disciplining was really starting to pay off.
However, when I was working that night, I was constantly getting distracted. I wasn’t writing very well, and I wasn’t staying on task. Ultimately, even though I hadn’t accomplished everything I wanted to, I had to force myself to go to bed. Sometimes, I really just need some rest. I am so strict about my kids getting enough sleep, but all too often I will stay up working (or more likely, procrastinating by watching videos as my work sits open in another tab) until well past midnight. Making myself go to bed (even if I had to get up early to finish work the next morning) was an important reminder that discipline is all about meeting your own emotional needs so you’re at your best. There’s no point in working into the wee hours of the morning if I’m not at 100 percent, or if doing so means it's going to ruin my upcoming day. Getting rest should be non-negotiable for me, just like it is for my kids.
Did Disciplining Myself Make Me More Well-Behaved?
By the end of the week, not only was I feeling more self-aware, I was actually feeling better disciplined in my routine. I was enforcing a good bedtime, making sure I ate enough during the day and taking some time away from sitting in front of screens so I could clear my thoughts and work more efficiently. Taking the time to focus on self-discipline in the same simple way I discipline my kids made so much sense for me, I was kicking myself for not realizing it sooner.
It’s so easy for me to get caught on autopilot and focus all my energy on my kids’ behavior while letting my own habits and behaviors go unchecked. Even when I know I’m not at my best, I don’t take the time to sit quietly with myself and try to come up with a better way of being. Giving myself that extra attention to focus on self-discipline wasn’t only good for me but it also made me more self-aware as a mom. It turns out I need discipline just as much as my kids do to become the sort of person and mom that I want to be.