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Ok, Positive Discipline Tool #2: Act Without Words. This tool says, "At times the most effective thing to do is keep your mouth shut and act." I can't change anyone else's behavior.

What I can do is decide how I will respond to that behavior, let them know what to expect, and then follow through, making sure that my behavior is respectful to both myself and the other person.

My husband and I have used this tool with each other from time to time. I'm a highly verbal person, and when I'm angry I want to "talk about it," which earlier in our marriage didn't really mean I wanted to discuss the issue rationally so much as I wanted to regale Paul with all the reasons why he was wrong and I was right. Paul, on the other hand, was quicker to recognize that he needed to get control of himself before we could "discuss" the problem. He would tell me, "I can't talk about this. I need to leave the room." And then he would. Which would REALLY piss me off!

However, his willingness to let me get more angry because he needed to take a time out gave us both the opportunity to calm down so we really COULD talk about the problem rationally. And we've always managed to achieve respectful, positive results from those conversations when we started in a calmer frame of mind. Many years of practice have led us to be more in tune with the importance of making sure we've both gotten to that "ready to be respectful" place, so now we're both better at asking, "Can we talk about this? If not now, when?"

I have permission from Paul to share this other example of when I've used this tool. Several years ago, he was experiencing high levels of stress from work and from a long daily commute through heavy traffic, and his temper was quickly triggered when he was driving, to the point where I felt frightened that he was going to get us hurt or hurt someone else. So I told him at one point, "If you're tense, I'm going to drive." And then next time I sensed that level of tension in him, I got in the car first and I sat in the driver's seat. He was mad. He wanted me to move. I said no. That's all I said. I sat there quietly until he got in the car, fuming, and I stayed silent while I drove until he relaxed. The next time we stopped somewhere before we got back in the car, I asked, "Are you ok to drive now?" He said yes. And he was. It took only a couple of those experiences for us to get comfortable with just checking in before we left. "Are you ok to drive?" If yes, good. If not, he was more relaxed about admitting it and letting me drive.
So, using this tool has been helpful to both of us. I don't know that we KNEW we were using the tool in the moment, but that's what we were doing. In a parenting situation, this might look/sound like:

  • If you ask me for a candy bar at the grocery store, I will say no.
  • If you start to cry and yell because I won't give you a candy bar, we will go back to the car until you're calmer, and then we'll try again.
  • I loaned you $20 last month to buy those shoes you wanted. I will be glad to loan you more money once you've paid back the $20.
  • I will be glad to drive you to your athletic team practice once you've finished the chores we agreed you'd do ahead of time.

I'm thinking about another of my favorite Positive Discipline sayings: "Decide what you will do, and follow through." No lecture needed.

I want to emphasize that when we use this tool, it's really important to determine what action we can take that will maintain dignity and respect for us and for the other person. Taking away someone else's dignity with insults, name-calling, and punishment doesn't put us or the other person in a frame of mind for resolving problems and growing our relationship. And without a foundationally solid relationship, we have nothing on which to build. I will watch for opportunities to employ this tool over the coming week, and report back on what I noticed. If you've practiced this or if you decide to, I'd love to hear about what YOU noticed!

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