The topic of disciplining children is a tough subject for any adult to discuss in general. It is akin to bringing up politics and religion at a dinner party. Every adult has different parenting styles and beliefs that factor into how and when they discipline their children. But what about talking to the child about discipline? Can they be included in the conversation as well? Below are some choices to make as you discuss with your child the nature of discipline.
When your child is acting out there is more under the surface than what you see as a parent. Children are sensitive to many different relationships in their immediate environment. They feel connection and separation very easily. What they have yet to fully grasp is how their behavior affects their relationship between love and loss. With this said, imagine for a moment to be in tune with love. You love the object you desire but don’t know why. You love your mom or your dad but don’t know why. Then you try to get more of what you desire or love using your emerging personality and set of skills. Then what you desire is taken from you and you don’t know why.
In your child’s mind, they are acting as themselves and loving what they have and who they are with and desire to experience more. Then they experience loss because something was taken away. They did something wrong, but also don’t know what they did. What typically follows is the feeling of being robbed of something that they cannot even understand or articulate. Then comes the tantrum or behavior that is an expression of this feeling. What you do next are choices that will clear the way to a better relationship by bringing understanding, support, and discipline.
Choice #1 Stop the undesired behavior or address the behavior that was expressed. Using a calm voice, redirect the child to stop what they are doing and give them a new direction. Studies show that people and children, when asked to stop one behavior, respond best when another choice is suggested or offered in place of the old one.
It is important to stop behavior that is a threat to your child, other children, or yourself as a parent. Any behavior that is emotionally or physically hurtful, or a direct threat to safety in any way, would merit intervention. To address the situation go to choice #2.
Choice #2 Choose to understand the situation. Identify where you are and what the context is so that you can bring this information to your child. Also, identify what your child wanted in that moment. As primitive, juvenile, or irrational as his or her desire is, answer the question: what did they want? What did he or she want to achieve?
Many parents skip over this and are quick to judge their child’s behavior as “bad” or “naughty” and many other negative projections. Avoid this by seeing what it is that they wanted and choose to understand.
Choice #3 Use a logical consequence or outcome for real discipline. Discipline is different than punishment. Punishment gives your child a sense of separation and loss. When you punish a child, he or she begins to fear losing relationships and objects that she or he loves. Feeling separated because of behavior ultimately will not help your child change, confidence does. Discipline helps your child find and use his or her personality to feel alive, confident, connected, and satisfied.
Using a logical consequence gives your child options to try again with better understanding -which leads to greater and increasing confidence in themselves and in their own abilities. You can provide options based on context. Inspiring your child to try again with courage with a corrected orientation is disciplining the personality to integrate with his or her environment in the most appropriate way.
Choice #4 Affirm your child’s character. Talk to them about how behavior in one setting is okay and in another setting may not be okay. It may not be the behavior that is inherently wrong (your child isn’t wrong or have a character flaw), it just may be the context is not right for that behavior to be expressed.) For example: If your child is shouting in the playground because she or he is having fun and playing a team game, shouting is great! But if your child shouts in a library because he or she is having fun it is not okay. Why? The context is different. Shared space, different activity.
Choice #5 Notice their strengths and point them out! Your child is incredible. See how the behavior alone may have been courageous, clever, or really productive. Point that out then move your child toward applying that behavior in a way that is more appropriate.
Ask yourself the question: How can my child do or have what he or she wants and remain safe? Then offer the suggestion to them how their budding skills and wonderful personality can be a helpful in another context.
Choice #6 Teach them how to respond in those cases where they express a desire to want to do something that requires an adult. (New behavior that you seek may be reflective of your family rules and values.) Next, be ready to help your child. By your engagement you will be improving your child’s confidence and refining your child’s character.
Disciplining children is the sweet spot in parenting because you get to reveal to your children who they are. To guide and redirect their personality and emerging skills can be simple when you make the choice to discipline instead of punish.