By Mike Lee Star-Telegram Staff
SOUTHLAKE -- Madelyn Swift thought
she had it together until Kris started talking.
She was a good communicator, well-organized, happily married.
She had finished college and graduate school and had a good career
as a school psychologist. Then Kris, her eldest son, grew old
enough to communicate. "My skills failed utterly and completely,"
Swift said. "I went from nice to ugly very quickly."
The experience led her to a career as an author and a lecturer
on child development issues. Swift said she began examining her
life when she saw two drawings Kris made when he was 4. The first
shows a mother with a broad smile and red cheeks, set off by
an orange sun. Then Kris drew his "other" mom, one
with a crooked line for a mouth and a green witch's heart. Swift
said she realized that she was bribing her children to do the
right thing, instead of teaching them why they needed to do it.
When bribery failed, she said, she found herself punishing her
kids to hurt them, not to instruct them. The two drawings are
in her first book, Discipline ! for Life: Getting it Right with
Children, which was published in 1995. Her second book, Getting
it Right with Teens, will be published in a few weeks. She sells
her books, as well as audiotapes and videotapes, on her Web
site. Her sons, Kris and Tim, are college students now. Swift
gives hundreds of lectures each year in the United States, Canada,
Europe and New Zealand on effective ways to discipline children.
The more she speaks to parents, Swift said, the more she realizes
that a lot of people are making the same mistakes she made, and
that society doesn't put enough emphasis on parenting. "No
matter where I am ... I ask which is harder -- your job or raising
your kids?" she said. "How much training and mentoring
did you get for your job, and how much training did you get before
you became a parent?" Swift's directness makes her a hit
with parents, said Cynthia McElrath, director of Christian education
for First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth. "She says
parents shouldn't do anything for children that the children
can do for themselves, and parents, when they apply that principle,
they see immediate results," McElrath said. Swift said she
is simply repeating a few time-tested ideas, such as the golden
rule and the idea that we reap what we sow. "I think I'm
teaching from grounded truth," she said. With those principles
as a basis, Swift said she tries to get parents to rethink their
ideas about discipline. It helps if parents think about teaching
children, rather than simply imposing consequences, she said.
"If a child rides her tricycle in the road and a mother
doesn't understand the difference between punishment and discipline,
she says, `Fine, you can't watch your video tonight' ... instead
of `You can't ride your tricycle,' " Swift said. The goal
should be for children to develop self-discipline, she said.
That sometimes means letting them learn things for ! themselves,
and it almost always means teaching kids to fend for themselves,
she said. "In trying to do the right things for our kids,
we wind up teaching them some really poor principles," she
said. "We pay kids to take the dinner dish that their mother
prepared for free and carry it over to the sink." Discipline
also can lead parents to rethink their lives. To make bedtime
easier, she said, turn off the television and let children get
more exercise: "Wear the little suckers out." When
children are old enough, it's OK for parents to ask them for
help, she said. Perhaps the most important lesson is to slow
down, she said. "Every conscientious parent knows you have
to put in time. If you don't put it in early, you will put it
in later," she said. "Young kids don't fit into our
culture. You spend most of your time waiting on them or for them.
Maybe that's their purpose, to slow us down and make us look
at things through a child's eyes. "! The good news is, once
you learn these skills, grown-ups are easy. When you learn your
skills on 3-year-olds, the lady at the grocery store is puppy
chow," she said. Mike Lee, (817) 685-3858.