“One generation full of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation, and with that, the world.” —Charles Raison
As parents, one way or another, Mama, we all have to discipline our children, and that means stress for everyone involved. But being mindful about how we discipline can make a big difference in our stress levels by resulting in connected kids who behave. Parenting and discipline styles vary greatly, so it’s a good idea to evaluate all based on whether they strengthen or weaken your relationship with your child.
Peaceful Parenting starts with regulating your own emotions so that you can be the patient, emotionally generous parent you aspire to be—and that every child deserves. Peaceful Parenting has three parts. The parent commits to regulating their own emotions, prioritizes maintaining and strengthening the parent-child connection (which is the only reason children cooperate), and loves the child unconditionally.
If you’re wondering whether practicing peaceful parenting instead of punishment at your house is a good idea, the short answer is that punishment undermines your relationship with your child, makes kids feel worse about themselves (which makes them act worse) and sabotages your child’s development of self-discipline.
The most effective discipline strategy is having a close bond with your child. Kids who feel connected to their parents naturally want to please them. Punishment is destructive to your relationship with your child and ultimately creates more misbehavior. These 9 tips will help you establish and maintain your bond with your child and minimize the occurrence of less than desirable behaviors:
1. Loving guidance is setting limits and reinforcing expectations as necessary, but in an empathic way that helps your child focus on improving their behavior instead of being angry at you.
Rather than using “love withdrawal” or other punishment techniques or rewards to control and manipulate your child, see yourself as a coach, offering your child loving guidance, so they learn to manage their emotions and therefore behaviors.
2. Children misbehave when they feel bad about themselves and disconnected from us, so it’s a good idea to start all correction by reaffirming your connection.
• Stoop down to their level and look them in the eye: “You want your brother to move, so you pushed him. No pushing; pushing hurts! Tell your brother, ‘Move please!'”
• Pick them up: “You wish you could play longer but it’s time for bed.”
• Make loving eye contact: “You are so upset right now.”
• Put your hand on their shoulder: “You’re scared to tell me about the cookie.”
3. Don’t hesitate to set limits as necessary, but set them with empathy.
When kids feel understood, they’re more able to accept our limits. Of course, you need to enforce your rules, so start by acknowledging your child’s perspective:
- “You’re very very mad and hurt, but we don’t bite. Let’s use your words to tell your brother how you feel.”
- “You wish you could play longer, but it’s bedtime. I know that makes you sad.”
- ”You don’t want Mommy to say No, but the answer is No. We don’t say ‘Shut Up’ to each other, but it’s ok to be sad and mad.”
- “You are scared, but we always tell the truth to each other.”
4. In any situation posing physical danger, intervene immediately to set limits, but simultaneously connect by empathizing.
“The rule is no hitting. You can tell your sister what you want and how you feel without attacking her.”
5. Defiance is always a relationship problem.
If your child does not accept your direction (“I don’t care what you say, you can’t make me!”), it’s always an indication that your relationship is not strong enough to support the teaching. This happens to all of us from time to time. At that point, stop and think about how to strengthen your relationship, not how to make your child “mind.” Turning the situation into a power struggle will just deepen the rift between you.
6. Avoid Timeouts. They create more misbehavior.
Timeouts, while infinitely better than hitting your child, are just another version of punishment by banishment and humiliation. Though they’re a more humane form of bullying than physical discipline, they leave kids alone to manage their tangled-up emotions, so they undermine emotional intelligence and erode, rather than strengthen, your relationship with your child. They set up a power struggle, and they only work while you’re bigger.
7. Consequences teach the wrong lesson if you’re involved in creating them.
On the face of it, consequences make sense: The child does (or doesn’t do) something, then learns from the consequences. Which, when naturally occurring, can be a terrific learning experience. But most of the time, parents engineer the consequences, so any child can tell you that consequences are actually punishment.
If you are not involved in the consequences (e.g., if your child doesn’t brush their teeth and gets a cavity), and if you can handle the bad result, kids can learn a lot from suffering the consequences of their actions. Of course, you don’t want it to happen more than once, or their self-image becomes that of someone who gets cavities, and they have learned an unintended lesson. It can be argued that it is better to skip such lessons, but as a last ditch strategy, we all certainly learn from letting things go wrong.
If you use consequences as punishment, most kids don’t think of them as the natural result of their own actions (“I forgot my lunch today so I was hungry”), but as the threats they hear: “If I have to stop this car and come back there, there will be CONSEQUENCES!” If you are in charge of consequences, then the consequences aren’t the natural result of your child’s actions, but simply punishment.
To the degree that consequences are seen as punishment by kids—and they almost always are—they are not as effective as positive discipline to encourage good behavior. Using them on your kids should be considered as a last resort and a signal that you need to come up with another strategy.
8. How your child responds depends more on what you think and feel than what you say.
Your child will do almost anything you request if you make the request with a loving heart. Find a way to say yes instead of no, even while you set your limit. “Yes, it’s time to clean up, and yes I will help you, and yes we can leave your tower up, and yes you can growl about it, and yes if we hurry we can read an extra story, and yes we can make this fun, and yes I adore you, and yes how did I get so lucky to be your parent?” Your child will respond with the generosity of spirit that matches yours.
9. How you treat your child is how they will learn to treat themselves.
If you’re harsh with them, they will be harsh with themselves. If you’re loving with them while firm about setting appropriate limits, they will develop the ability to set firm but loving limits on their own behavior. Harsh discipline and punishment, ironically, interfere with your child’s ability to develop self-discipline. The problem with internalizing harshness isn’t just that it makes for unhappy kids and, eventually, unhappy adults, it’s that it doesn’t work. Kids who are given discipline that is not loving never learn to manage themselves constructively.
To the degree that we’re harsh with ourselves because of the way we were parented, we respond to it by rebelling (how many times do we cheat on our diets?) or martyring ourselves by trying hard to be good but building up resentment and lashing out at those we love, or not giving ourselves a break and ultimately breaking down. To the degree that we can accept our own loving guidance because we’ve learned from our parents to treat ourselves that way, we are able to set goals and use our self-discipline to attain them.
Ultimately, loving guidance and positive parenting can result in your child developing the holy grail toward which all child-raising is aimed: their own self-discipline.
Originally published in Aha Parenting. http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/positive-discipline/use-positive-discipline