Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Enthusiastic about their successes with Positive Discipline

It is always fun to interview someone who is so enthusiastic about their successes with Positive Discipline. Following is the email I received from Stephanie Peterson-Ferrel before calling her for an interview. Be sure to check out her website. Her writing is humorous and captures the feelings of many people.

Dr. Nelsen,

I'm not sure where to even start with my success story. I guess a little background would be helpful. Feel free to use only what you think is appropriate.

When I had my oldest, I was a young mom, and my own parents were pretty "traditional" in their methods of discipline - if I made a mistake, I was spanked or grounded. If I did well, I got lots of "attagirls". Naturally, I felt like this would work out for me with my own children. After all, I turned out "fine", didn't I? When my son was about three, there was a night when I overreacted to something he'd done. I won't go into the shameful details, but I made a decision that night that I wouldn't hit my kid again. Seeing that small child afraid of me was enough for me to stop and say, "Whoa. What am I doing??" And that was the end of spanking as a method of discipline in our house...well, most of the time.

It was very hard for me to give up spanking as a method of discipline as it seemed so effective, and I really had no "replacement" for it, other than yelling and nagging. Over the past decade since my decision to stop hitting, I'm ashamed to say I've struck my children in anger and frustration. Not often, but often enough that I'm squirming now just thinking about it. I can very clearly recall the last time I struck either of my kids (it happened to be my then 5 year old daughter), and the thought that went through my mind was, "There has got to be a better way. This isn't helping anyone." I promptly apologized to my daughter, and she forgave me. Kids are better than adults at forgiveness, I think.

After that last time I hit my child, I started voraciously reading parenting websites and magazines. I frequented parenting message boards. I asked for advice from mothers I knew. I was desperately searching for a method that could work for me and my children. I was seeing signs that my son was alternating between being a praise junkie and being completely rebellious. My seven year old daughter was trying her hardest to be the "perfect" child, and she was terribly hard on herself when she fell short of her standards, even though we weren't terribly hard on her. I just knew I had to find something and fast. Unfortunately, my piecemeal approach to parenting wasn't giving me the results I wanted.

A friend linked me to www.positivediscipline.com, and I was hooked by the "What is Positive Discipline?" section. I wanted to know more. I wanted our home to be one filled with love and mutual respect. I wanted my kids to be confident and self-reliant. I wanted them to think for themselves, so they could make good decisions on their own. Really, what parent doesn't want these things? I immediately ordered "Positive Discipline" and "Positive Discipline A-Z". I've read and re-read both of them, and in a matter of weeks, we've seen a remarkable difference in our home. (And PD A-Z has been a lifesaver more than once. Getting out of the "punishment" mindset is so much easier when you have actual suggestions to replace your former manner of handling things.)
The first thing my husband and I worked on was the idea that we had to make our kids feel bad for them to do better. (Did you realize how mind-blowing that line would be when you wrote it?) We sat and talked about it, and we really thought (for the first time) about how ineffective it is. Neither of us do better when we feel worse. Why would we think the kids were different? Once we got that idea straight, a lot of the rest of it came more easily. We've started family meetings (I love these!), and at first, the kids were suspicious. They figured it would be just another time for Mom and Dad to lecture. They've since realized that their input is valuable and more importantly, that it's heard, and they participate enthusiastically. (Yes, even my teenager.)

Another thing that's changed is how often our children fight with each other. Without the "payoff" of Mom or Dad getting involved, they seem to be able to resolve their arguments with a minimum of fuss. The first few times they heard, "I have faith that you can work this out yourselves," they both rolled their eyes and huffed off. Since then, though, they've realized I'm serious, and they work it out themselves. Joy!

I think the absolute hardest part really has been to stay out of things. So many times, I find myself wanting to "fix" things for them, and since reading PD, I've realized I'm not fixing anything. I'm robbing them of their ability to learn from their mistakes and to become capable of making their own decisions. I've spent a lot of time in Positive Time-Out learning to keep my big yap shut, but again -- it's been worth every bit of effort. My son who was previously incapable (or so I thought) of doing his homework without reminders (read: nagging) now does his homework on his own. My daughter has learned that making a mistake is just not a big deal, and I've seen her ease up on the need to be the "perfect" child.

I could go on and on here, but I've already written way more than I'd planned. I do expect to be able to provide even more success stories as time goes on, as my youngest isn't even a year old. (That was another thing I really related to in your book - I have "before, during and after" kids, too.)

Thank you so much,

Stephanie Peterson-Ferrel

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