A New Perspective on Discipline
They’re little brats.
They drive you crazy.
They keep pushing boundaries and defying you.
If that’s your perception of children, it’s probably because we’ve been conditioned to see children through a lens that reduces them to nothing more than their behavior and become focused on controlling that behavior. This explains the harmful disciplining methods that are based on fear and punishment. We adopt them in the name of discipline even though we reject them and would even label them as bullying coming from someone else. Why is it okay to yell, hit, humiliate, and threaten in the name of discipline? For the sake of clarity, this isn’t about losing it every once in a while and doing something that doesn’t align with our values as a parent. All parents mess up and fall short sometimes. That’s okay, we can always apologize and repair the relationship. But we cannot deny the fact that relying on punishment-based methods to discipline children is harmful. These methods don’t teach kids how to behave differently, rather they can harm the parent-child relationship, cause more bad behavior, affect future relationships, and cause emotional struggles later in life…
You may be wondering, so how do we get children to behave?! Before we talk about how to discipline and correct behavior without harming our little ones’ self-worth, we need to change the way we see children because it greatly affects the way they act and the way we relate to them.
What if we saw them differently – innocent people requesting help?
What if we saw their behaviors for what they are – means to communicate their needs and emotions?
Wouldn’t we relate to them with more compassion and understanding?
Wouldn’t they want to cooperate more when they feel understood?
It’s only normal for us to find it odd to show affection when a child is “misbehaving”. But that is at the core of effective discipline. We cannot correct behavior without connection. And one does not replace the other. Consistent limits, together with empathy and affection, are essential elements of discipline. When your child engages in unwanted behavior, you simply want to help them experience the natural consequences of their actions.
Not only that, but understanding why our children behave the way they do allows us to be more compassionate and deal with them better. Here are some main reasons behind children’s behavior. It’s not always obvious, but could be helpful to remember that children are not bad but could simply be:
- still lacking some skills and abilities
A child losing it over a broken biscuit is developmentally unable to regulate his frustration. As parents, we can simply be there without trying to reason with him and later, when he is calm, teach him other ways to express his frustration.
- experiencing changes in their environment and big feelings
A child being clingy or hurting her baby sister could be jealous and crying for attention. We can make an effort to spend one on one time with her to fulfill her need for attention, and praise her when she’s gentle with her baby sister.
- attempting to fill a legitimate need
A child who is not cooperating could be hungry, tired, overstimulated, in need of attention or control. We can avoid stressful situations whenever possible, and make sure we are giving him enough control and attention.
- copying others or their parents
A child cursing could be repeating a behavior she learned from TV, from friends, or quite commonly from his parents. We can try to figure the source in order to avoid it, and work on changing some of our own behaviors when we notice our child is copying us.
- exploring the world
A child who is playing with toilet paper is doing what he is meant to do, being curious and figuring out what’s acceptable and what’s not. We can create a safe space for him to explore freely, and remind him of the rules in a consistent manner.
In brief, we need to manage our expectations, parent proactively whenever possible, empathize, reinforce consistent limits, strengthen our relationship, and get curious about what’s underlying our children’s behavior so that we can effectively discipline i.e. teach our children other appropriate ways to express their feelings and get their needs met.
As a final note, remember that you cannot do that if you are running on empty. Make sure to fill your cup so you can have it in you to do all the above and show up as the best parent you can be for you children.