How many times have you heard a GPS say, “Recalculating” when you chose not to obey the directions? Parenting is much like this because children frequently need redirection.
Punishment vs. Discipline
Punishment is deterring behavior by creating discomfort.
Discipline is teaching effective self-management and effective interpersonal skills.
Training does not have to be punitive to be effective. As we train our kids about right and wrong, we can explain why we do certain things and why we refrain from other things. My 5-year-old can identify simple feeling words such as sad, mad, scared, happy, and confused.
When I ask, “How do you think your sister felt when you punched her in the nose?” he can identify sad and mad. I will be honest, though. This is the way the conversation goes:
Stubborn son: I didn’t punch her in the nose.
Me: Okay, tell me what happened.
Stubborn son: I am not going to tell you.
This is the point when many of us would have gotten spankings growing up. I know I did! If you have tried it with your kids, has it succeeded in changing your kids’ behavior in the long run?
Me: Oh, I see that you don’t want to tell me what happened. Why don’t you want to tell me?
Stubborn son: Argh! I just don’t want to tell you! (Hits the wall in true 5-year-old tantrum style.)
Me: I understand… I will give you a moment to calm down. I am going to sit with you until you are ready to tell me. (Wait and watch for physical reduction in tension: i.e. Slumping of shoulders, sighing, relaxing of an angry face, slower breathing, calming of voice, etc.)
Me: Thank you so much for calming down. You are getting much better at getting calm when you are upset. How are you feeling?
Son: A little sad.
Me: Okay, tell me what happened in the bedroom.
Son: My brother and sister would not play with me, and I hit my sister in the nose because I was mad.
Me: I hear that when you are feeling left out, you get sad and mad.
Now we are ready for the original question.
Me: How do you think your sister felt when you hit her?
By offering positive feedback for my son, he knew that I love, support, and value him unconditionally. This encouraged him to be more open to communication. By listening to him, I was able to identify what happened from his point of view, why it happened, and teach alternative approaches to solving this problem in the future. I also had the chance to teach my son empathy for his sister.
I have yelled and taken other angry actions in the past. Then I had to comfort him, so he felt ready to discuss the behavior. Angry actions trigger the limbic area of the brain, and the teaching opportunity is greatly postponed. (See Lead By Example: Don’t Poke the Lizard)
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