Being a Governor • The Soul of Discipline

The Soul of Discipline book review

One of the things I love best about reading parenting books is the ability to put things into practice immediately. Often there is no instant and visible effect, but when there is it’s extraordinary to behold!

I recently finished reading The Soul of Discipline; his philosophy of educating our children by governing, gardening, and guiding them is practical and thought-provoking.

I’m in the governor stage right now with my little one: “…everything we do to help make our kids feel safe and clear about who is in charge affirms this sense of safety and trust in their world. We are the kind but firm Governors of the ‘family state.'”

In this stage things sometimes flow smoothly and we move happily through our days together. And sometimes there are tears and resistance and uncertainty (I won’t mention which belong to me). Being uncertain is my hardest thing. I don’t want to live in a place of uncertainty about raising my daughter. If I feel uncertain about a new developmental stage or a behavior I want to research and study and figure out the way to be her confident leader: a governor.

The most magical idea I received from this book was that in the governing stage we offer fewer choices. I’d been getting this all wrong. In my quest to be a gentle parent I had been offering too many choices for her little mind. I thought I knew all about choices and offered good ones: play outside or go inside? Eat in your high chair or at your little table? But with too many options too many times throughout the day the decision fatigue (and power) was getting to her. I switched to offering only occasional choices and she’s already seemed much happier. Dr. Payne suggests letting choices be a part of your parenting, but wait to make them more available when their brains are ready for it: in the gardening and guiding stages.

Another area that Soul of Discipline has shed much light is in giving direction. Again, I feel I may have been too gentle in my language sometimes. My intended purpose was to be respectful and engage my child in what we are doing, but the end result is often confusion. Dr. Payne points out that requests or suggestions are processed in a different part of the brain than directions or commands. I certainly don’t need to bark orders at my daughter, but by simply changing “why don’t you pick up you toys now” to “pick up your toys, love” I’ve made it easier for her brain to understand. A good governor gives simple, clear instructions or direction without wavering. This has been something where I’ve seen pretty immediate results, which has helped me in my efforts to be more directive.

At the same time, I’ve worked to only give a direction if I’m planning to follow through. Dr, Payne shares five steps for giving direction as a governor; the most helpful for me has been to stay close. If I am otherwise engaged in a task, I don’t give a direction as it will likely not be followed through with at this stage. This will only undermine my direction-giving. Rather, I’ve been working to choose times to give direction when I am ready to move close to her and help her complete the direction if needed. Again, this has helped with her compliance and helped me with not giving useless directions throughout the day.

I also found the idea of disapproving and affirming to resonate with my style of parenting. Daughter is going through a phase of pulling hair which is challenging for both her and her mother. I’ve got the disapproving down pat: “You may not pull hair. I will not let you do that.” But the idea to affirm the positive qualities of my child as we work through the difficult behavior was new for me. Now, it sounds more like: “You may not pull hair; that isn’t kind. And you are kind and gentle to your friends. I will help you not pull her hair.”

And the very last thing I’ve found oh-so-helpful in this book is the phrase “how can I help you make this right?” I’m not a fan of forced apologizing as I think the brain is too young to understand what this means. Rather I’m working to model apologetic language and help her learn to empathize by pointing out how the other child is feeling or reacting. But, even little kids can learn how to fix something they’ve broken or return something they’ve taken.

So loved reading this book and will definitely be returning to it as we move from governing to gardening to guiding!