“Research shows that physical punishment of a child can actually change the brain’s neural pathways, setting him or her up to use similar force as a parent later in life. Ending the cycle of violence isn’t easy but it can be done.” Globe and Mail, September 19, 2014
Discipline That Teaches Without The Hurt
Beverley & Doone, The Parenting Network
Parents often ask us, “If I adopt a collaborative approach to parenting, how do I discipline my child when things aren’t working?”
When they say the word discipline, they usually mean some form of punishment, or at least a consequence. There’s a lingering myth that a child needs to suffer to learn. That’s not what we believe. When things go off the rails, which they inevitably will, we want to provide a chance for our children to take responsibility for it, make amends, and learn from it.
Effective Discipline Tools
Alternatives to punishment is such a vital focus for parents that we decided to dedicate our next few newsletters to guiding parents on how to incorporate discipline in a positive and encouraging way into their family life.
Messing up is normal in any family.
Kids draw on the wall, they break a vase when they’re jumping off the sofa, or they might even sneak money to buy candy at the store. It might be a simple mistake, something they didn’t think through in advance. Or it might be intentional, repeated behavior. If it is, you can be pretty sure that something is driving this behavior and the most helpful thing we can do is figure out what that is. Then we can look for a solution with our child.
When things go wrong, we can depend on an incredibly valuable resource – our own child’s natural creativity and ability to solve problems. Kids are our greatest resource. Figure them out, and they can move from resistance to cooperation. They have lots of ideas, they’re creative, and they respond to better to problem-solving than blame and punishment.
One of our parents came to class one day in a despondent mood. She’d been yelling at her kids all week, and she was tired and frustrated. What had happened? Her 6-year-old had taken her mascara and scrawled all over the wall in the staircase, the wall in plain view of anyone sitting in the living room. She was so furious she felt like giving the child her red lipstick to finish off the job!
What was she to do? Most of us would get pretty mad at a time like this, so it might be useful to reframe the scene. Instead of seeing it as behavior that needs to be punished, you might think of it as a problem that needs to be resolved. In this case, you need your child’s cooperation to address the problem.
Here’s a step-by-step problem-solving approach that can serve as a useful guide at a time like this. These steps can be adapted to just about any situation!
1. Take a Time out – for Yourself
When you first see the mascara, take a deep breath. And another. Go in another room for a minute if you have to. It is best not to yell. What you are doing here is showing how an adult takes a self-respectful time out to manage her emotions. A yelling adult is role modeling an out-of-control adult. We’re not saying we’ll never lose our patience and show our anger over a behavior; after all, we are human. But it is better to focus on what motivated your child to do this and how the clean-up is going to be handled. Pointing out the child’s carelessness or deliberateness or how ‘bad’ they are will create distance and not solve the problem.
2. Approach Your Child When You Are Calm
When you’re both calm, approach your child to start dealing with the problem. Problems can’t be solved respectfully when we are stuck in ‘fight or flight’ mode.
3. Put Yourself in Your Child’s Shoes
“You must have been pretty upset about something to mark up our walls like this. Do you want to tell me about it?” The goal here is to give your child a chance to share what was going on for her. Find out what motivated the behavior. If you have an inkling what it could be, you can make a guess, “I’ve been pretty busy all day getting ready for our dinner party tonight. Could it be you’ve been feeling ignored? Maybe a bit hurt?” Don’t rush through this step because it’s where you win cooperation. Your child may even surprise you with a reason you never would have thought of. If the child feels you truly understand and care about her point of view, she’ll participate in the rest of the problem-solving exercise without fear or resistance. Before moving on, finish with this question: “Is there anything else you’d like to share with me?” Often children will delve into other issues that have been weighing heavy on their minds when they have a warm parent willing to listen. It can be a real goldmine.
4. Express Your Feelings
Keep this step brief. Say your bit in ten words or less. Otherwise you risk losing that cooperation you have just achieved. “I care about you and I care about our house.” Don’t go into a rant - they’ve likely heard it before. Your child knows right from wrong by age five so there’s no need to lecture either. If your child is under five, use this situation as a teaching moment and calmly state, “This isn’t a respectful way to treat our home. We draw on paper not on our walls.”
5. Collaborate on a Solution
So what can we do about this mess? This is when children learn the power of brainstorming for ideas and that two heads are often better than one. Ideas aren’t evaluated until the end. The key is to let your child share her ideas first. Since this is a pretty straightforward problem, there are only a couple of likely solutions. The child may offer to clean it up, or ask us to help her clean up. She can even offer to replace mom’s mascara from her savings or allowance. (Another good reason to give our children allowance) After her ideas run out, it’s your turn. Some children have difficulty coming up with solutions initially, but the more practice they get with this process the better their participation. With a younger child you may give them a couple of solutions to consider.
Then, together with your child, choose the option you think will work best and implement it. Other issues, such as a new bedtime routine, may take a few days to solve. If so, you can say, “I think we have a great solution here, but let’s try it out for a few days and see if it’s working. If not we can always go back to the drawing board and fix it.” And if that is the case, it’s a good idea to follow the problem solving steps again.
The Younger Child
If you have a young child, or a simple situation, you might collapse these into one or two steps. A 3-year-old child dumps his blueberry yogurt onto the kitchen floor on purpose. We can say: “We’ve got a real mess here. What do we need to do now? Can you grab the sponge and we’ll do it together?” Afterward ask, “What can you do next time you don’t want your food?”
When a child continues to disregard solutions or decisions agreed upon, then it’s time for follow through. But instead of dishing out a consequence we’d like you to consider what we call taking the Logical Next Step. More on this and other ways to follow through in our next newsletter!
Until then, keep well!
Beverley & Doone