“My eight-year-old was a natural spender,” Melissa said about her daughter, Pita. When money came into Pita’s hands, she would spend it immediately, on the first brightly colored plastic trinket she saw, even if it was a pooper-scooper for the dog they didn’t have.
“Last year, she headed to Walmart’s toy aisle hoping her older brother, Garret, or I would give her a few bucks so she could buy something,” Melissa said. Pita had learned to bat her big blue eyes and put on a dramatic pouty face, which unfortunately often worked on Garret. But this time, her brother said no.
So Pita turned to her mom. “Mom, I bought him stuff when I had money, and now he won’t do the same,” Pita said through her tears— some real and some not. “Can you buy me something? This is just $3.99.”
“My first reaction was to punish her, because we’ve been over this a thousand times already,” Melissa said. “But I remembered the need to keep my cool as best I could. I took a deep breath, or maybe it was two breaths that day.”
Then Melissa responded this way: “I’m sorry, Pita. I’m sure you’ll do much better next time and save some of your own money for later.”
Melissa reports that Pita has become a wiser spender since that particular Walmart incident. A year later, Pita’s hard-earned money now stays in her backpack for a day or two, and sometimes even for a week.
If you’re like most people, you tend to connect discipline with correction, consequences, or punishment. But on that day in the store, Melissa was disciplining her daughter with training and redirection. As a mom, she was seeing discipline as the bigger idea of “disciple-ing.”
Melissa didn’t know it, but by providing loving discipline to her daughter and helping her build important life skills, she was also providing a good offense against suicide. The goal of discipline is to lead your “disciples” to the place where they have the skills and confidence to tackle the world on their own, in a healthy way.
In the end, you’ll want your child to have four basic life skills.
Self-discipline and regulation: Good discipline brings kids to the point where they can regulate their own choices and behaviors. Early in the process, teach your child something like this: “No matter how old you get, someone will always bug you and tell you what to do. You can either bug yourself, which is self-discipline, or you automatically give other people permission to bug you. The choice is yours.”
Resiliency: If we try to control and protect our kids, we deny them the opportunity to toughen up in the school of hard knocks. This good kind of toughness can be taught by way of age-appropriate consequences. A toddler who gets scratched quickly learns not to tease the cat.
Balance: Balance has to do with maintaining mental and emotional equilibrium. It’s the ability to bounce back to a healthy outlook after dealing with a difficult circumstance. A child who has figured out how to keep herself on an even keel will be ten steps ahead of her peers when it comes to weathering the storms of adolescence and the ups and downs of adult life.
Competence and confidence: By trying new things, failing, and trying again, children eventually achieve a level of competence that in turn becomes the foundation of personal confidence.