My two year old daughter, Cecilia, is obsessed with The Sound of Music. We've watched it countless times together as a family and I must admit I've become quite a fan.
It's not just the charm and grace of Julie Andrews that draws me in. It's the lessons on raising children that the movie offers through its juxtaposition of Maria (Andrews) and Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer).
Early on, Maria, a sanguine seize-the-day free spirit is pitted against the stern and distant Captain, quickly winning the hearts of his seven children under her care. For years, the Von Trapp children had been severely disciplined by their naval officer father for even the most minor infractions. Despite his efforts, the authoritarian style did not produce positive outcomes in terms of good behavior, creativity, or meaningful experience.
Maria, on the other hand, takes a much different approach. She helps the children discover their unique strengths as the story unravels, unlocking their full potential. She soon has them performing music and puppet shows, dancing, and having adventures in the Austrian countryside. And their attitudes all change dramatically for the better.
Modern Focus on Discipline
It seems we may have forgotten some of the lessons from Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music. When I Google "parenting techniques," many of the initial results are about disciplining, not raising children. I’m not sure how widespread this is, but I notice a tendency in my role as a dad to focus on my child's behavior, over say creativity, experience, or learning.
But I don't think parenting and discipline are synonymous.
In fact, to reduce parenting to shaping our kids’ behavior alone misses one of the greatest aspects of raising children: helping them discover who they are and what makes them unique.
Of course, rules are an essential element of raising kids. But while parenting primarily through discipline may help form good habits and instincts, it does not prepare a child for greatness in life.
A Strengths Based Approach
In this regard, positive parenting techniques like strengths based parenting can be far more empowering toward children than authoritative or authoritarian parenting styles. Mary Reckmeyer, Ph.D., says "parents should embrace their child's natural talents, inclinations, and interests instead of putting most of their energy into 'fixing' what's wrong or pushing their child to be someone else's idea of perfect." Julie Andrews' character Maria is a great example of how to unleash children's strengths, rather than bottling them up under the banner of discipline.
Helping our children discover and develop their strengths is central to how Nicole and I understand our role as parents. I'll write more specifically on how we go about that in another post. For now, I recommend you go back and watch the Sound of Music if you haven't seen it in a while. It's a touching story that'll inspire your whole family to keep striving!