"The reason a child will act unkindly or cause damage is always innocent. Sometimes she is playful and free spirited, and other times, when aggressive or angry she is unhappy or confused. The more disturbing the behaviour, the more the child is in pain and in need of your love and understanding. In other words, there is no such thing as bad behaviour in children. Instead there is a child who is doing the best she can and we don’t understand her.” – Naomi Aldort
How do you discipline your children? Do you hit, use fear, remove toys, implement the naughty step, cancel playdates or special planned events, remove the ipad for 3 months as 3 days wasn’t enough; so it kept increasing? Surely if these really worked we wouldn’t need to keep repeating punishments for the same problems.
The problem with punishing as a form of discipline is it keeps our children from becoming confident, capable, self-disciplined, individuals. You are not teaching them, you are just breaking down the connection in your relationship. I often hear from parents that they feel they have no connection with their children, this is because they are in a cycle of punishing all mistakes and misbehaviours and constantly telling (not asking) their child. Is there any wonder the child and parent feel so disconnected.
Often when we start throwing punishments out it is because we have lost control ourselves, we have heightened feelings and are reactive. Punishments just come out of our mouth and then we struggle with follow through as we have said something ridiculous and we wonder why our children don’t listen. Then further frustration happens when we don’t go to that birthday party when actually you also wanted to go to have a catch up with your friend.
Being punished makes our children angry and defensive. It launches adrenalin and the other fight, flight or freeze hormones, and turns off their reasoning, cooperative ability. Research shows that punishing kids actually creates more misbehaviour. It belittles our children, the words we use we often don’t think about, but they can have a lasting long term effect, and ultimately loosen the connection and child’s inner self esteem. Without ever wanting to we can make them feel they are failing, guilty, not good enough, not as clever as their sister, shamed, or humiliated. Funnily, these are all the upset feelings if someone else made our child feel, we would be the first to speak up, support our child and say that’s not right. We can sometimes try and justify ourselves because they’re our children and “You don’t know what they did”. NO, that is not good enough, I honestly don’t care what they did that way of disciplining doesn’t work long term and there are so many better approaches that actually TEACH our children and get much better results for both us and our children.
Take a moment, to think about a time you were your child’s age, can you remember a time you were left feeling humiliated or belittled? Remembering now as an adult, it’s still uncomfortable. Now ask yourself what else could someone of done to of handled the situation better?
Parenting is hard and sometimes we feel we need to teach our child a lesson, they need to know, but what we are trying to achieve is the complete opposite of what actually happens. When you are feeling hurt by your children’s behaviour avoid striking back. Instead, validate the children’s feelings. “You must be feeling really hurt right now, I can understand. I would be feeling like that too I’m sure.” By validating their feelings this can really help to diffuse a revenge cycle, but may need to be followed up with problem solving. “When we both feel better, why don’t we get together and have a chat then.” Notice how we take responsibility for our actions and don’t place blame, which is very easy to do. Usually power struggles happen because we are also in the power struggle. It is hard when your child calls you names; but please knows they are doing it because they are hurting. They are actually asking for help, by us getting angry and punishing their misbehaviour, or pushing them away when they need our support most it breaks down the trust. It leaves children with feelings of injustice and if they learn anything, it’s to lie and avoid getting caught. Punishment disconnects us from our chilldren so we have less influence over them.
When we then punish it becomes about the punishment we inflicted on our children thus making us the bad guy, they are not working through their mistake they are thinking how mean we are for what we are now doing to them. My children respond terribly to any punishment, it does not make them then do better, which is exactly why we did it in the first place. We did it to teach them to do better.
We need to remember that children do better by feeling better. When we help them first feel better inside then we have a conversation about a different solution for next time. Children are open to hearing but only when they feel better. As adults when we are cross, we are not open to hearing, how we could change our behaviour, if anything it makes us more angry and frustrated and often causes us to respond badly again. Our babies are exactly the same!
Next time I will share 10 points of what we do instead to teach.