Several friends have brought home their desperately prayed for children in the past couple months, and I've received a slew of emails about how to respond to the clash of cultures, communication chasms, grieving issues, and discipline needs ~ especially for toddlers. Here are some thoughts about how we handled - and wished we handled - discipline and attachment issues in those first days home...
PHILOSOPHY. We seek to discipline our kids in the same ways God disciplines those he loves...US! We see discipline as both proactive and responsive. Proactively, we want to guide them toward good things that will strengthen their souls and encourage them to become all God's created them to be. Responsively, it's correcting them when they get it wrong and showing them another way. Discipline is NEVER about shame, punishment, power, or control because that's NOT how God disciplines us. Discipline is a practice that allows us to get in sync with what God most wants for us - to walk with him. We also pray that our discipline is never exclusively about the behavior but always about what's behind the behavior - the heart. We're not into a gospel of sin management but a fuller gospel of grace.
ATTACHMENT. We chose to err on the side of attachment over discipline. Those first several weeks [months?] we didn't do any physical discipline. It was exhausting but I'm glad we didn't. We heard from experts and believed that our kids' acting out was about fear, grief, and seeking boundaries than it was about them being "bad". We chose not to physically discipline because their behavior was not rebellious. Also, your kids have never experienced YOUR parenting, so they are learning very fast...on so many levels. In the same breath, we read that kids learn parenting philosophy within 3 months. So while we wanted them to know what was appropriate, we wanted them to know they were safe and loved by us more than anything.
BOUNDARIES. Instead of physical discipline, we chose to redirect their actions and words...constantly. We removed as many temptations as possible. When they acted out we disciplined ourselves to respond with hugs, snuggles, and kisses. Mentally, every time they behaved inappropriately [mainly Judah] I just imagined his grief and nightmares causing it, like he was reliving some of his most painful memories. That reflection gave me strength, compassion, and perspective not to spank him when that's what I'd naturally want to do. Of course we didn't do this perfectly, but that was our posture and daily commitment for a LONG time. Really, only recently have we started hand slaps or bottom spankings. Eight-plus months into that discipline philosophy, our kids are doing great in every way and listening better than I'd expect for a 3 year old and 18 month old.
HEALING. We have also found that our kids' [again, mainly Judah] acting out was related to grief, trust, safety, or language barriers. It's NOT because they are bad or want to ruin your life! I also affirm the "time-in" method [vs. the "time out"]. One principle I've really grown to appreciate is that we need to actually bring our kids closer when they disobey/act out instead of pushing them away. By pulling them closer, we teach about grace and mercy, not that we don't want them near us unless they are good. After all, this is what God does to us, he brings us closer when we sin. He goes after us when we run away from him. The practice of "time-in" is a reminder of God's discipline of those he lives and is pretty darn transformational for parents, too!
NO "NO'S". We are way more liberal in our use of this word 8+ months into parenting, but we were VERY cautious not to use it in those first months. We wanted our kids to feel like our home was their home so they could have free reign. This is why we simply removed temptations from them. We wanted their bodies, minds, and souls to find REST and YES-es in our home, not to be restricted and confined in their own space. So, instead of saying "no", we did a lot of redirecting or trading one thing for another. Again, it's a LOT of work but ESPECIALLY with a language barrier, this was a great choice in those first few months. Again with the language barrier, our social worker told us to expect 2-3 months for every year until Judah was totally current with normal language development for his age [he was 2.5 years old when we adopted him which meant 4-6 months until he was caught up]. She was right! We saw big communication improvement after 4 months, but at 6 months his little vocab and comprehension took on a new level.
LOVED ALL OVER. I've heard the poetry of multiple parents speaking their undying love for their "chosen child". These words are powerful to their core for any human being, but especially a child who's lost everything and is finding love in your family. These couple statements are my favorites that my friends say to their kids when they discipline their child...
- "Mommy loves you. Daddy loves you. And we're not going anywhere. We love you when you obey and when you don't. "
- "I love you no matter what you do. There's nothing you can do that will make me love you less. And there's nothing you can do that will make me love you more. You're stuck with me and I'm not leaving you."
- "I forgive you. Thank you for saying sorry. I love you buddy."
These practices are easier said than done, but it is possible! We chose the hard way of connecting, bonding, and affection in those first months when the easier way would've been spanking, yelling, and force. But today we are seeing some fruit of our labor as our kids understand their boundaries, lavish us with unsolicited affection, and listen when we call. None of us our perfect, but we are perfectly working it out as a family centered on Love.