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Photo by: Nadya Suleman

The Importance of Discipline

August 29, 2012

Ever since childhood I longed to be a mother, dreaming of one day being blessed with my own Brady Bunch. Although I felt loved, as an only child, I can’t ever recall hearing the word “no.” At the time, my parents implemented the only parenting skills they were familiar with: my father spoiled me, as his parents had with him, and any attempts my mother made at disciplining me were negated by his overly-permissive and indulgent parenting style. Had I not learned in school how to discipline myself, I would not know how to be an effective parent; perhaps similar unhealthy repercussions I experienced, such as always wanting more and more, would have been projected onto all of my children!

Unfortunately, after I had my first baby, Elijah, I repeated the same overly indulgent parenting style – failing to set firm boundaries or remain consistent with ANY form of discipline. He always won. I would give him what he wanted, when he wanted it. Maybe it was because he was my first, maybe it was because that was how my parents expressed love, or perhaps it was simply easier to give in and avoid conflict.

With the next two children, also singletons, I continued to give in, continued to fail at any consistent discipline. For example, they would never stay in time out for more than a few seconds before sneaking off, and being a distracted mom, I would repeatedly let it go.

My fourth was born autistic, and I sought out the help he needed. However, just like the first three, I showed affection and love, not discipline. After experiencing incapacitating guilt for having caused my son’s condition, I chose to have one more, perhaps my way to lessen the pain, and ended up having twins. My ineffective way to discipline was yelling empty threats-such as toys being taken away, or “when we get home, you will go immediately into time out!”–and of course, it would never happen.

My first six children were basically very respectful and loving, as the only thing I did do right, I believe, was express unconditional love and acceptance. The other half of what is essential to be an effective parent and to raise well-adjusted, healthy kids, I failed at-implementing structure. Kids need structure to feel safe and secure. They are lost without it.

After giving birth to the octuplets, wow, did my perspective on parenting change! From day one, the reality of caring for eight babies simultaneously created in me an intense desire to stay as consistent as humanly possible.

Although us moms do not discipline infants, it is imperative to maintain structure and routine so our babies feel safe and secure. I began kangaroo care (holding and rocking the babies skin-to-skin) immediately, and even nursed all the babies that developed strong sucking reflexes. I pumped breast milk for them for three months, and of course had several nannies to help me care for them around the clock.

As the babies grew, so did their need for consistent structure and discipline. My form of ‘discipline’ for infants was to redirect, and teach them what to do, rather than reprimand on what not to do. For example, if one hit or bit another, I would sit on the ground at their level, look directly into his or her eyes, and firmly, yet calmly, say to be gentle and remind them we do not hurt others. Most importantly, I would use ‘soft touch’ to show them what to do. I would hold my hand over his or her hand, and gently stroke the child that was hurt.

I began to place each of the octuplets in ‘time out’ by the age of one, with the duration of one minute per year old. At this age, I would first give a warning. For example, when one of my former major biters, Jeremiah, bit again, at age one he would go into time out for 60 seconds, at age two, two minutes, and so on. After time out is over-I use an egg timer, as it is too easy to get distracted and forget a child in time out!-I would again sit at the child’s level (very important so he or she does not feel intimidated or shamed by a tall mom talking down to them) and describe why he was in time out. In this case, I would then instruct Jeremiah to go ‘say sorry’ for hurting his brother or sister, to “show gentle” and give a hug. I tell him we all need to be soft and gentle, not hurtful. I believe spanking is a disadvantageous form of discipline because it condones violence. Kids follow by example more than what we as parents lecture to them. By showing our children how to behave and treat everyone around them (including sisters, brothers, parents, friends, and even animals!) with empathy, kindness, and respect, we are shaping healthy, well-adjusted human beings who will, in turn, teach others the same.

Nadya Suleman is best known as’ ‘Octomom’ after giving birth to octuplets in January, 2009. She is also the proud mother of twins, and four singletons.

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