Rethinking Discipline

discipline

Positive Parenting is all about connecting to your child and keeping that the first goal in all communications with your child. Discipline actually means “to teach”. Someone recently asked me how I discipline my children, what they meant was, “how do you punish them when they don’t do the right thing?”  Discipline is helping a child solve a problem, not punishing them because they have a problem. We can do this as parents even when the child has not done the “right thing.”

 

Let’s assume your child has done something wrong, it probably won’t be too hard to go back in your recent memory to think of an example. The traditional way to “discipline” that child and teach that that is not ok is to get loud, lecture and dole out punishment. Think back to when you were a child, did that work? If you decided not to do that activity again, it was probably because the consequence was not worth it, not because you were convinced it was wrong. And if the consequences were not a deterrent to your activity, you probably just got better at hiding it from your parent. Walls are up, tempers are up, and connection is down.

 

Also, think of the last time you were reprimanded as an adult, how did that feel? You probably felt belittled and angry even if you deserved the reprimand. Your child has similar feelings and wants the same thing you want in those situations, empathy and connection.

 

So. when you need to correct your child, think of these three things:

Stay calm

Stay connected

and teach

 

Stay calm is the biggest one. Once you can control your own impulses to react and slow down and take a deep breath before engaging with your child, the rest should come easier.

 

Stay connected by validating the child’s feelings if you know what they are. If you don’t know what they are, be curious and ask questions.

“I know you don’t want to share your toy with your sister, that can be frustrating.”

Or

“You seem angry, can you tell me about it?”

 

Take the time to connect especially when your child is caught in the act of doing something they know you wouldn’t approve of. This helps the child keep his own thinking brain online instead of being reactive, and is able to listen and engage by mirroring your calm and connection.

 

 

Depending on how emotionally charged the situation is, you may decide to teach now or later. If you are upset, please talk to your child later about his behavior. When you feel like it is a good time, talk with your child about the incident.

“Hey about that thing that happened this morning, that didn’t go so well, what do you think we can do next time?

 

This type of discipline affords the child with respect and empathy and allows him to make his own path to right a wrong to maintain connection rather than out of feelings of shame and anger. It’s connection.

New Year- Choosing Connections

So, I’m a Doctor Who fan. There’s a great statement that the Doctor makes when he is regenerating into yet another form of “the Doctor.” If you don’t watch Doctor Who, that’s ok, the quote is still good.

dr who quote on change

New Year resolutions are about making changes in your own life to be happier with yourself. Change is good, change can be slow, but remember who you were, and embrace who you are- and keep moving forward.

As parents we want to be better parents and we often fall into a self defeating pattern of beating ourselves up when we make mistakes. Just know, the mistakes will always be there, no amount of parent coaching, classes and tips will result in perfect parenting, unless you find a way to no longer be human. It comes with the territory. What you can do this year is embrace who you are, and let your kids see how you deal with your mistakes. You don’t always have to be right, and even though much of the time, we are right in our battles with our children, we may not make good choices in enforcing our rightness.

This year, instead of focusing on your mistakes, focus on restoring the relationship after strong words have been exchanged. Wait until you and your child has had time to calm down and go to your child and say, “I don’t like how that went, I’m sorry I…”  You can always make it right again. You can restore connection with your child, and have the added benefit of modeling for your child how to restore a relationship after conflict. Maybe not right away, but eventually, your child will take part of the restorative conversation and you can both have an open discussion about went went wrong and what you will both do differently next time. That’s connection, and that creates a happier home, and a happier you. That’s a great goal for the new year!

Emotional Intelligence

Carl Sagan love quote

Emotional Intelligence is the term developed in the 1990s by Dr. Daniel Goleman that refers to the sum of feelings, thinking and emotions that go on inside of us (Goleman, 2008). The more we understand how our feelings and thinking effects our emotions and actions the more “emotional Intelligent” we can become.

 

Children and adults who have gone through trauma may understandably have a heightened sense of danger and can interpret seemingly harmless words and actions as danger and act on their emotions. It is important for both the children and adults to understand themselves, in order to better interact with others.

 

Emotional Intelligence has two main parts, self-awareness and social awareness. The caretaker can help themselves and the child improve both of these areas to help them be more regulated in their emotions.

 

The key to teaching children to regulate their own emotions is to model empathy and calm.

 

  1. Notice your body and emotions. Without judging yourself, how does your body feel when you are stressed, happy, tired or angry?
  2. Identify what makes you upset and what helps you calm and think of ways that will get you back to a calm state when you are upset. When you can calm yourself, you can think more clearly and make better decisions instead of reacting to what is going on around you.
  3. Empathy is the ability to understand how another person may feel in their own circumstances. To practice empathy, get curious. Ask questions and be attentive to the other person to see if you can pick up on how they might be feeling to get outside of your own viewpoint.

 

To help a child in your care with emotional intelligence, stay calm and stay present when they are feeling big emotions.

 

  1. Remember big reactive emotions like anger are usually a defense against thoughts of fear or hurt.
  2. Model empathy by acknowledging their feelings and letting them know feelings are ok and sometimes we need to let them just roll over us.
  3. Repeat back to the child what they said to help them sort their feelings and feel heard.
    “You seem really angry because your friend won’t talk to you?”
  4. Try to keep them talking. “Tell me more”. This helps a child calm and put words to their emotions.
  5. Make daily habits of helping a child to practice empathy. This could be a game by pointing out people or animals and asking the child what emotion they think that person or animal is feeling right now based on their facial expressions or circumstances.

 

A higher emotional intelligence allows caregivers and children to be aware of their own emotions and those of others and be slower to react and find more positive ways to interact with others.

 

 

 

 

References

 

Goleman, D. (2008). Building Emotional Intelligence. Boulder, CO. Sounds True Inc.

How do you Feel?

face in a reflection

If I’ve learned anything about trauma, regulation and parenting it is that first you have to know yourself. That applies to your children and it applies to you. If you aren’t in the habit of self-reflection and asking yourself how you feel and what do you need, you are most likely a reactive person who is comfortable telling yourself that your reactions were justified because someone else “made you do it”.

 

While it is very true that we attune to people and tend to match the emotions we see in someone else we focus our attention on (see my previous post on Atunement), it is important to be able to have enough self-awareness to understand when you are having negative feelings and examine those feelings before you disconnect with that person- in this case your child.

 

If you are not in the habit of self-reflection, I would suggest you look up some mindfulness techniques. They don’t have to take a lot of time during your day. You can do something as simple as pausing every now and then during the day and labeling your feelings at that moment to yourself. “Right now, I’m feeling- happy, anxious, calm, angry…” Remember behavior is communication. It’s true for your child and it’s true for you. If you are being short with your children, label your feelings and that can help you identify why you might be behaving the way you are.

 

Now for you children, self- reflection and attunement might be hard concepts for them to grasp. But you can still teach your children how to know themselves. I’m big on family time, family meetings, family meals whatever ritual you establish that pulls your family together so you can talk and share. Our family gets together before bedtime every night to talk, read, pray and dole out goodnight hugs and kisses. This is the time where I sneak in some sort of mindfulness activity we do as a family. One exercise we tried recently was that we each had to say how we felt at that moment and put a label on our emotion. It may be difficult for your kids to put a word to how they are feeling as we typically don’t say much about our emotions beyond, “fine”, “good”, “tired”, or maybe even an eye roll when a parent asks how a child is feeling. It’s a good place to start building up self-awareness. Try it!

 

Another exercise you can do with your children that is fun is playing a sort of feelings charade game with them. Have each person take a turn choosing a part of their day to act out and they have to show in their face how they felt about that experience.  By focusing on non-verbal communication with no words. The rest of the family will be attuned to the person’s body language and facial expressions to try to figure out how they are feeling. This game has a two-fold benefit of helping the person who is acting out to again label their emotion to themselves and then tie that emotion to a facial expression, it links the left brain label/category and words factory to the right brain sensing and expressions to help them process how they felt about a part of their day. The rest of the family trying to guess the emotion, will be attuned to the person and their mirror neurons will be activated as they watch the expressions and register the feelings themselves in the right brain- then say the word- activating the left brain. Its’ a fun way to integrate thoughts, feelings and empathy by using both sides of the brain while building self-awareness skills.
And self-awareness brings knowledge

Holiday Help: Stay Attuned

child and Christmas tree

The holidays begin! All the fun of baking, decorating, traveling, traditions, family and friends is great but often overwhelming. We love the holiday season, but most of us are just as ready for things to slow down after the holidays and get back to normal. Our children are no different.

 

My holiday advice to you is to stay mindful of your own feelings, energy level and stressors and how it affects your behaviors and your interactions with others. Do what you need to do to regulate even in this busy season to meet your own needs. Your needs will be a variety of wanting love, solitude, fun and stability. Be conscious and ask yourself what you need to feel present and regulated right now and do it. You may not have the luxury of changing your schedule, but you can quickly refresh yourself by doing some deep breathing for a minute or two, give yourself some positive affirmations, drop your shoulders and relax your muscles.

 

When you are mindful of your own emotions, you can help your child with his regulation during the holidays. Kids have notorious big behaviors during the holidays, if you don’t believe me, just browse the internet for funny/not funny Santa pictures with unsmiling children.  Your own children have the same problems you do in shifting through different emotions and trying to stay present and regulated. Stay attuned to your child’s needs and ask the same questions that you asked yourself about what your child needs right now. See past the child’s behaviors and see what he needs from you to feel safe and regulated. Remember behavior is communication. It’s true for you, and it’s true for your child.

 

If your family is not your child’s first family and he came to you through adoption, foster care or a blended family, be particularly conscious that the holidays have different context for your child and may trigger memories that are unpleasant or sad. Be attuned to your child who may need more regulation and felt safety at this time. Meet your child’s needs with compassion and regulation. It is easier to do when you can see past the behavior and see that the root cause is fear, or simply being tired or hungry. They will be able to mirror your own regulation if you are in a calm place to begin with. If you are not regulated in your own body, it will be hard for your child to feel calm.

 

If you need some ideas of how to build in family connection times you can read my previous post about that here.

 

Enjoy the season with your family!