I don’t know what it is about the word discipline, but when I hear it a piece of me shudders inside. Discipline can be tricky territory – done right, it can give our children the boundaries they so desperately crave. Done wrong, it can nothing short of damaging. So the question on many a parent’s lips – how to discipline your child – is one that so many of us angst over. To help us get it right, today I’m delighted to welcome back Louise Hoffman Brooks, Family Advisor at Parenting Success Coaching for this important Q&A on how to discipline your child.
Discipline is a word that leaves many a parent feeling uncomfortable these days. How should we be framing discipline in modern day parenting?
Discipline does ring Victorian – synonymous with authoritarian parenting styles – which most of us parents distance ourselves from. However, I think it helps to remember the root meaning of the word Discipline which is: ‘Disciple’ – learning from the teacher.
The key word here is LEARNING.
What we now know about children’s mental health, emotions and resilience has sparked a whole new parenting paradigm. This is the one our generation of parents are trying to navigate. Not always an easy task.
Discipline – as it has been practised historically – does not work within this new parenting paradigm. And for good reason! But what has replaced corporal punishment – are more sophisticated – yet equally problematic discipline tactics – such as “time out” and “the naughty step”.
The trouble with these types of discipline methods is that they work on the attachment relationship.
Because it works. When we threaten to take away the one thing our children need the most in order to survive emotionally and physically – their connection to us – they will turn around on a dime. While it may appear that some children are impervious to these discipline styles – in order to self-protect some children become impervious by cultivating an attitude of ‘I don’t care’. This hardens them and closes their heart and spirit.
Besides, when a child is in a state of alarm there is very little learning taking place. So back to the question of how to discipline your child….
Where do consequences fit into all of this?
Consequences are a natural part of life. Every choice we make in life has a consequence – put differently – for every action – there is a reaction. And if we tune into this – we will notice how often natural consequences occur – and carry plenty potential to teach.
When these situations arise – we need not do MORE as parents. It would be pointless to add to that another consequence. And it would only serve to weaken our connection.
‘You ran with an ice cream in your hand – now it’s on the floor’.
If we allow the child to mourn the loss of that ice cream which is not coming back – we need not say very many lecturing words – but can console him instead. Fixing it by buying another one – may strip the child of a valuable natural lesson learned.
Many of us have not been met with any empathy when natural consequences happen to us. We have been lectured, moralised to – which has served to either make us defensive or harder on ourselves.
How do consequences work? Can you share some practical examples & the difference between using positive and negative consequences?
Consequences ought to teach and not punish. We know more than ever before about optimum conditions for learning. And there is little doubt that we learn better and are more receptive the better we feel. In other words – making a child feel worse does not make him behave better! Although that is what many of us end up doing when we see red.
When it comes to how to discipline your child, shaming strategies such as shouting, grounding, taking away favourite objects for a long period of time rarely work in the long run. Not if we care about the connection we share with our child and if we care that they come to develop a moral compass that is not FEAR based. But one that is borne out of wanting to do what is right as often as possible.
Besides natural consequences as mentioned earlier, there will be times when we need to help our children behave better by:
Getting them away from the people / thing that is causing their misbehaviour
If your child throws sand at another child at the local park after repeatedly being told not to. This is a sign that it is time to leave. Not as a punishment. But because your child cannot do better in this moment (perhaps he’s tired, hungry / over-stimulated).
Assuming responsibility for what they have done by being held accountable
If your teen has been caught vandalising property / breaking something a way to learn may be to pay for the damage / tidy up / make good again.
What is the secret to giving effective consequences?
We do well to remember that the problem is the BEHAVIOUR not the CHILD. Understanding first of all that children do the best they can at any given moment and that we do well to not dish out consequences when we are angry and triggered, can save us having to follow through many a threat given in the heat of the moment that we ultimately regret having given.
Consequences need to feel respectful for the child. This may sound contradictory. But when remember to relate to the BEHAVIOUR not WHO THE CHILD IS – the way we talk becomes more respectful. Less finger pointing and hurtful.
Consequences ought to guilt – not shame. Guilt means: I did bad. That was a bad choice. Shame means; I am bad.
There is no incentive retribute or make good when we are being told we are a bad boy / girl, naughty, not worthy of being with (sent to our room) etc. This only breeds more shame – and in many cases more of the same unwanted behaviour.
If, on the other hand, we communicate that our relationship is intact – but that you don’t condone the BEHAVIOUR – I can take steps to right my wrongs. This is character building and healthy.
Effective consequences match the crime. They are reasonable. There is little learning in loosing all TV rights for a week because the child lashed out at his sister. Children are sensitive to this injustice and will lose respect for us.
Effective consequences are revealed ahead of time allowing the child to adjust his/ her behaviour. ‘I don’t want you to throw that ball in the house. And if I catch you doing it again I’m going to take the ball away’.
How should discipline and consequences change by age? Could you give us some different age appropriate examples?
One of the most important and respectful things we can do is to adopt an attitude of curiosity. What prompted this? What is going on for my child?
What is so difficult to say / do that X behaviour feels like the best choice?
This way we can actually help them mature and understand themselves better.
Whatever the age of the child – having deep and meaningful talks in the heat of the moment is rarely a good idea. Wait until later in moments of calm.
Young children benefit from cooling off away from others at times. NOT away from you or another parent. But by changing the scenery for while – because it can feel almost impossible for them to disconnect and calm down on their own.
Not making this a punishment but merely a help your child – your will less likely want to wriggle out of your arms trying to get away from their ‘punishment’.
Truly understanding immaturity means that we believe and trust that our young child is not yet able to do what they KNOW not to do / say. They have poor impulse control and they need our help!
The 8 year-old who defied your rule of not splashing water on the windows – will benefit from being part of the solution. ‘Come – let’s clean it up together’.
If we stare at them with a stern expression – we will only end up creating a massive power struggle. Children are no different to us in that respect.
When your sixteen year-old refuses to do their homework rather than taxing away their game stations and phone rights – have a chat with them about what you see. Be curious. Tell them what you would like – and what they would like. And whether they need your support in any way to do the homework.
At the end of the day the natural consequence for not doing their homework is a poor grade. And if you have communicated your willingness to understand and help – the biggest help you can give them is to allow them to experience the consequence for themselves.
How can we avoid using consequences to accidentally reward negative behaviour?
I truly believe that all behaviour is meaningful. Is about something – and communicates something. Therefore – when we see a lot of the same behaviour we do well to get curious.
Many of the families I work with have gotten into a bad habit of giving misbehaviour their FULL attention. And full negative attention is better than no attention after all. Children crave our attention / a sense of connection – and they will often ask for it in very unloving ways.
So it is a good idea to look at where we put the majority of our attention. A rule of thumb is:
For every reprimand or correction you give – say three positive things. This can be giving your child your full attention when they are playing nicely. Speaking respectfully. Respecting your no or being helpful. Show them you notice these things. Show them your appreciation. With your presence, your words, your warm face and tone.
If you had to give my readers a pep talk about using discipline and consequences it would be…
Children feel safe when they sense our boundaries and when we communicate these clearly and respectfully. Before we even consider giving our child a consequence – ensure that you have cooled off and have thought about the situation.
Although our children need not like the fact that their actions have a consequence -but it is important that the consequence feels fair and respectful and never questions who they are as a person. Consequences and discipline ought to teach – not punish. But perhaps the most important attitude we need to cultivate is that of curiosity. Asking ourselves WHY the behaviour occurred. WHAT contributes to it (if it is recurring). And HOW you can help your child do better next time.
Do you discipline your child with consequences? Do share in a comment below.
And if you’re looking for further support in your parenting you may be interested to hear about these upcoming parenting workshops from Parent Success over on their Facebook page here.
ABOUT LOUISE HOFFMAN BROOKS
Originally from Denmark, Louise lives in Surrey with her English husband, Dean and their two children, Freja 5, and Miller 2 ½ who she raises bilingually. Louise holds a BSc Psychology degree from University of Westminster, London and is a fully qualified Life and Business coach from a leading Danish coaching institute.
Besides having worked on a consultancy basis with children with a diagnosis of Autism, Louise has recently completed a foundation course in counselling and psychotherapy. Louise has since the birth of her second child attended all of Parenting Success’ workshops and has a keen interest in parenting issues and understanding what motivates children and make them thrive.