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Discipline Is Teaching

By Maggie Heeger
LEAVEN, September-October 1994, pp. 69-70

"From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings." La Leche League's concept statement on loving guidance sounds so basic, so achievable, so common- sense. Why then, do some Leaders dread a meeting where the subject is discipline? Sometimes Leaders feel backed into a corner, trying to defend LLL's "discipline policy" against an onslaught of opposing viewpoints. If this scene sounds all too familiar, maybe it's time to look at La Leche League's philosophy of loving guidance from a different perspective.

Discipline at its best (and that's what loving guidance is) isn't about spanking or not spanking. That's such a limiting view--comparable to devoting an entire Series meeting to a discussion of sore nipples--there's so much more to consider! Take a new approach and think of discipline instead as teaching.

Everything we do as parents teaches our children something and that teaching begins right from Day One. In the early days we teach our babies that they can always count on us. They needn't cry endlessly for our attention, for it's freely given, day or night. Our babies learn that parents can be trusted.

We go on to teach our children important life skills: how to eat solid foods, how to stack blocks, and how to back down the stairs. We teach socialization skills: how to ask for a toy, how to express anger and how to mingle with others. We teach safety rules: that stoves are hot, car seats are mandatory and that streets are not for playing. This is all teaching; this is all discipline; this is all loving guidance.

Teaching becomes more challenging when we need to correct behaviors. Teaching a toddler not to slap a playmate, and helping a child to understand that crayons aren't permitted on the wallpaper are much more difficult than we first anticipated. Finding a solution that pleases the parent yet respects the child can take patience and creativity. At our meetings we can underscore the respect and creativity we're striving to develop.

When preparing for any meeting, wise Leaders consult their resources. Besides THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and THE NEW LEADER'S HANDBOOK, the wide array of LLLI-approved books can help clarify what Loving Guidance is and isn't all about. Consult the latest edition of La Leche League International's catalogue, and consider having as many of these books as possible available in your Group's library-- both for your benefit, and to provide a resource to the mothers in your Group. Promote these books at meetings and recommend them often. Remind mothers that as members of La Leche League they receive a 10% discount on any purchases. If your treasury doesn't allow you to keep these books on hand to sell or lend out, you may want to keep several copies of the LLLI catalogue on display, so that mothers can order their own copies. Of particular relevance to any discussion on Loving Guidance are How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, Love and Anger and Loving Your Child Is Not Enough, by Nancy Samalin, The Nurturing Parent: How to Raise Creative, Loving, Responsible Children, by John S. Dacey and Alex J. Packner, Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, and The Winning Family by Dr. Louise Hart. This is yet another example of the way Leaders are supported by LLLI, which enables them to support the mothers in their local Groups.

Some Group Leaders have presented brief summaries of the books as part of their meeting format. This encourages mothers to think of La Leche League and Loving Guidance as something that extends far beyond the local Group. By showing the books at meetings, and referring mothers to these sources, Leaders are empowering women to make their own decisions, and not to rely on Leaders for their parenting information.

Another way Leaders prepare for Loving Guidance discussions is to arm themselves with helpful phrases that can respectfully address a number of potentially explosive situations. Don't hesitate to write these phrases down on your clipboard, review them before the meeting, and keep them on your lap during the actual discussion. You can easily consult this list whenever you feel your mouth starting to drop open. Here are a few phrases that Leaders through the years have come to count on: "We all make the choices that feel best for our family's needs," and "No one's here to tell you what to do. We're here to offer ideas and we ask that they all be accorded respect" both emphasize that many ideas are welcome. Using comments such as "Every child is unique so we can't depend on a `one size fits all' solution," and "Rarely is a situation so cut and dried that anyone can give a definitive answer" help mothers see that Leaders aren't going to answer every problem with a pat solution. We don't want to get involved in a game of "Stump the Leader", and making it clear that we're not know-all answer sources will help prevent that. When a Leader feels the need to suddenly switch gears or distract someone's inappropriate comments, she can offer these words: "That's one option. Any others?" Generally, Group mothers are quick to seize the opportunity to offer other insights. Leaders can also diffuse potentially hot situations by opening the discussion up to the entire Group: "Let's list some options to consider. How about the other mothers here? Have you experienced anything similar to the scene Janet has just described?"

Should a mother suggest spanking as a solution to a discipline dilemma, Leaders don't need to respond defensively, rushing to explain why harsh physical punishment is bad. Instead, acknowledge it as one of many choices available to parents, and that every parent needs to decide which choice reflects their philosophy of discipline. We can then encourage mothers to think of some creative solutions that respect the needs and feelings of both parent and child. Leaders should stress that no one can declare which option is best--that our job is to increase the pool of acceptable choices open to parents.

What about religious views that enter into discipline discussions? Keep it simple and direct. State clearly, as soon as religion is mentioned, that La Leche League is non- sectarian and as a Leader representing La Leche League International, you cannot allow any religious discussions to take place. Be firm, and remember that it's required that all Leaders guard against mixing causes (see pages 59 and 74 in THE NEW LEADER'S HANDBOOK). And thinking practically, why risk alienating a mother who can benefit from La Leche League information by bringing outside interests into the discussion? No matter how "safe" these topics appear, we must abide by the guidelines of our organization. Your disclaimer can be as simple as, "I've gotta stop you here. La Leche League doesn't discuss religion or religious ideas. Let's move on to another subject."

Loving Guidance as the subject of a Series, Toddler or Enrichment meeting is sure to generate a lively discussion. Welcome this exchange of ideas as an opportunity to present new ideas and clarify what La Leche League really advocates.

(Several side bars follow)

SIDE BAR

Keeping Loving Guidance Discussions Positive

*Include the following points in your discussions:

*Discipline is a word that means "to teach" not "to punish".

*Focusing strictly on spanking/not spanking is too limiting and negative.

*Discipline is teaching: repeat this often.

*We're here to increase a mother's pool of acceptable choices for dealing with problems.

*Don't try to counter other discipline approaches.

*Do not allow religious subjects to be discussed.

*We all make the choice that feels best for our family's situation

*It's not our job to convert the whole world, but to present LLL information.

SIDE BAR

LOVING GUIDANCE:

La Leche League's concept statement on loving guidance:

From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.

La Leche League's Policy Statement on loving guidance:

The goal of loving guidance, helping a child grown to be a loving, caring, self-disciplined adult, is ideally reached by an emphasis on discipline/teaching methods and attitudes that foster learning while maintaining self-esteem. This process reflects awareness of, sensitivity to, and respect for developmental needs, capabilities and individuality. In considering a mother for leadership, the focus will be on the entirety of her relationship with her child and her willingness to support the philosophy and goal of loving guidance by example and word.

Harsh or restrictive physical or verbal methods or a lack of parental attention, concern or intervention are inconsistent with the philosophy and goal of loving guidance. Yet we understand and accept isolated lapses from our ideals as we continually strive to grow in loving guidance.

SIDE BAR

Helpful phrases to use when discussing Loving Guidance:

*"We all make the choices that feel best for our family's needs."

*"Every child is unique so we can't depend on a 'one size fits all' solution."

*"Rarely is a situation so cut and dried that anyone can give a definitive answer."

*"I can't advise you on how to handle any given situation. Instead, let's list some options to consider. How about other mothers here? Have you experienced anything similar?"

*"I've gotta stop you here. La Leche League doesn't discuss religion or religious ideas. Let's move on to another idea"

*"No one's here to tell you what to do. We're here to offer ideas and we ask that they all be accorded respect."

*"That's one option. Anyone else?"

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