Laughter and Versatility, by Mara Spiropoulos

[Editor’s Note: This article explores personal experiences with two of the attributes of “The L.O.V.E. Approach to Discipline” developed by LifeWays founder, Cynthia Aldinger.  To learn more or to share your own experiences, see information at the end of this article.

L – laughter and listening
O- order and objectivity
V – versatility and vulnerability
E – enthusiasm and energy]

Today as I lie next to my sleeping eldest child, watching her breathing calm and her sweet hands twitch from dreamy wonder, I whispered an apology. I had grown impatient with her just before she fell asleep. Ellia, four-and-a-quarter years old, is my deeply sensitive thinker of a child with a stubborn streak. More often than not, she resists napping. Actually, she resists quite a lot of things – her father’s attempts to sway her (due to her attachment to me), apologizing for wrongdoings, and other things we adults think are so “simple” yet, unless they are Ellia’s idea first, she often resists.

My apology to her was not only for my impatience, but also for my forgetfulness to see her sensitivity and make an accommodation. She wasn’t simply being stubborn and refusing to nap. She is just more sensitive to the light that peers in through the windows despite my attempts to block it. Minutes before succumbing to dreamland, she asked for “that thing to put on my eyes” (aka a hankie). Just as she was about to ask for it, I thought, “what she needs is a hankie!” I wish I could have thought of it before I had become upset and hardened my tone with her.

The truth is I am learning to forgive myself more frequently and with slightly greater ease. As I have started to care for a 3-year-old boy in my home along with my own three children, we have fallen into a better rhythm that breathes a lot more, and I have been working on being present with them. Though I resist (hmm, I wonder where Ellia gets it from?) rhythm at times and can find it stifling, I see the positive effects of it on my own children and this little man. I can also feel the effects it has on me and my ability to stay present with the children, finding reserves of patience and new ideas that I didn’t realize I had. 

Rhythm and living in each moment are keys to reducing our need for disciplining our children. The more we all know what comes next in our day and can settle into what we are presently doing, rather than into what comes next or what we’d rather be doing, the fewer tantrums, outbursts, and fights there seem to be in our home.

Though don’t misunderstand me. We still have our fair share of tantrums, pushes, and occasional bites, and we still need a method for disciplining our children. There are millions of suggestions and philosophies out there on what are the “best” ways to discipline a child, and my husband and I have tried a few different tactics. Lately, though, we seem to rely on just a few different things.  The first and most important thing for me is listening to my gut – how do I feel after raising my voice or threatening my child with a “if you don’t do this, you won’t be able to do that”?  I feel awful, embarrassed, guilty, and unworthy. How, instead, do I feel when I use distraction, humor, laughter, and versatility to guide my children to appropriate ways of behaving? I feel calm, proud, confident, and helpful.

Caring for four children now, I truly need to be versatile.  Children come here with their own unique gifts, strengths, and weaknesses, and it is up to us as their care providers to discover what these are and how we can best work with each child to help them fulfill their destiny here on earth.  We can’t fulfill it for them, but we do need to create an environment that is nurturing and be an example of the kind of person we would like our children to become.

Versatility is only one part of the L.O.V.E. approach to discipline. The other parts of the acronym are: listening, laughter, order, objectivity, vulnerability, energy, and enthusiasm. I use them all in some capacity most weeks, but I chose to focus on just a couple here.

Versatility for me means finding what works best with each different child to help them learn how to be in this world. For my eldest, I need to understand her suffering and be sensitive to it. If she is crying, as she is just at this very moment, for she does not want to leave my side and I need her to be with her father, I am not going to punish her but I am going to let her cry and experience her emotions while I remind her it is mama’s time to work. For my son, the middle child, I often will need to use imagery – for instance, Lincoln hates picking up something he dropped on the floor during meal time. He drops things during meal time all the time, gets very angry and demands we pick them up for him. Once in awhile we will help him after he says please but mostly we encourage him to pick them up himself through the use of imagination. The other day, I asked Lincoln to use his crane arm to stretch down and pick up his fork. It worked, for the moment. My youngest has an extremely strong will and deep attachment to whatever she or someone else is playing with. While distraction works sometimes, other times she is single-minded in her fury, especially lately while she is teething and her will seems even stronger!

Laughter works wonders in our home, when used appropriately. This does not mean using sarcasm with children, for they do not grasp it (this is something I continue to work on, for sarcasm is often my way of venting, especially after a long day), or laughing at something one of the children have done. My eldest is especially sensitive to laughter directed at her, even over something sweet she has said or done. Then she often feels embarrassed and hurt, so we need to be careful.

The old cliché saying that laughter is the best medicine is often true. It breaks us adults out of our own personal murky thoughts and back into the present moment. It also can help with children who are being cruel or are about to have a tantrum. For instance, finger games or tickling often breaks the tension and eases upset feelings in our house. I have a little trick of saying, “Wait, wait! What’s under your arm? Is that a chicken wing?” and then I tickle their armpits! My husband uses physical play, silliness, and appropriate roughhousing with the kids, and it works wonders to transform a situation of previous upset. We also do our best to allow emotions to come, embrace them, and let them go as well.

Having the ability to be versatile and use laughter as an approach to discipline in our daily lives comes from developing close relationships with the children, deep personal work and forgiveness of our own and others’ mistakes. It works best within a framework of creating a rhythm that ebbs and flows.  Knowing what sets a child off can work wonders in preventing tantrums and outbursts. Being versatile in how we help our children learn to behave, using laughter with the children, and laughing at oneself are all great ways to rely less on traditional discipline and more on nurturing the whole development of all of us.

If you’d like to learn more about the L.O.V.E. approach to discipline, I encourage you to purchase the two-CD set by Cynthia Aldinger from the LifeWays store. If you have experience with other aspects of this approach, please email them to me, below.

Mara Spiropoulos is the blog coordinator and parent voice for the LifeWays North America blog. She is a recent graduate of the LifeWays training program, resides in Milwaukee, WI, and is a full-time mother to 3 young children. Mara enjoys spending time in nature, reading and researching natural parenting and living, and crafting. She would love to hear from anyone willing to be a guest writer. You can reach her by email at linearmara@gmail.com.