This being my year of presence and habit, the two ideas are rarely far from my thoughts. Am I being fully present in this moment? Is this a habit I want to allow to develop in my life? This steady self-evaluation shapes my days and interactions as I continue my journey towards a more intentional life.
In the bigger picture, I hold these concepts up against our family life as well, seeking that same habitual presence on this more general level. It is a constant refrain in my parenting, too. Children, being children, seem to have a beautifully inspiring ability to always be fully present in whatever they are doing. Habits, on the other hand, have a tendency to require more intentional guidance and cultivation.
These two concepts came to an interesting head recently in our household. Our oldest has, like other children, that delightful ability to be entirely consumed in whatever he is doing at the moment. It was becoming more difficult, however, to briefly gain his attention in order to speak with him (to alert him to an upcoming transition, to make a request, and so on).
Because he would frequently not respond to my statements or requests, I, assuming he hadn't heard me, would repeat myself. Annoyed, he would tell me he had heard me the first time and why was I telling him again? Equally annoyed, I would (quite shamefully) snap at him about responding to me if that was the case. We had both fallen into a bad pattern and it needed to be changed.
Recognizing a problem, I sought a solution. After sitting down to discuss both the problem and potential solutions with him, I gently began working on a new habit: respond when someone speaks to you.
The habit is as simple and straightforward as that. It is not the content of the response that concerns me, but rather the acknowledgement that something was said in the first place. He knows that he is welcome to let me know that he is in the middle of something and will do as I've asked when he is finished; he is always free to negotiate; he may even choose to make the wrong decision and learn from that in the safety of a loving family and during this time when the stakes are still low.
Sometimes my request is both urgent and important, but when possible, we work together to find a mutually-agreeable solution in that manner. It would be both disrespectful and boundary-less of me to insist that he always jump the moment I say something, just as it would be so for anyone else to expect me to instantly drop what I am doing and carry out their every request.
This habit has been a good reminder for myself, as well. Sometimes, introvert that I am, I get overwhelmed by the constant questions, requests, and "Mommy, look at this!" that come my way all day. When that happens, there are times when I simply stop responding. Of course, being kids, this doesn't stop them - they just ask again. And again. And again. Ignoring someone is no more respectful when it comes from me than it is when it comes from them. It has been good for both of us to work on this habit together.
Finding this mutually-respectful solution has restored the sense of peace and togetherness that had been temporarily disrupted in our home. If he forgets to respond, he needs only a gentle reminder. If I fail to respond, he prompts me in a similar manner.
This, I believe, is the core of gentle discipline. Walk alongside your child with kindness and respect. Recognize a problem and together seek a solution, not a punishment. Peace and maturity will follow in time.