Myths About Punishment and What to Do Instead (Part 2)
In the previous article I wrote about the myths that surround the need for punishment, whether emotional (ignoring, grounding, or depriving of things and belongings) or physical (spanking, smacking, pushing etc) and how the negative consequences for the child might affect their lives in the longterm. Yet, the question remains. If we are not punishing, then how to discipline your child and to deal with unwanted behaviour?
Here are some tips:
1. Start with yourself
Self-awareness and the ability to regulate your own emotions is a great way to model response to adverse life situations. Children learn by looking up to adults who are important to them so show that you are capable of response rather than reaction. Demonstrate constructive ways of dealing with mood changes by taking a break, voicing out your emotions and separating them from the action.
2. Show empathy
During conflict, the emotional state of a child does not allow him to hear and understand you. His inner world is in a state of chaos, which an adult is able to calm down. Recognize and label his inner feelings back to him: "I see that you are now angry", "I know that you are very tired."
If that doesn't help, just letting a child know that you are around may help. "I am here if you need me. You are safe. I understand". This is extremely difficult to do in the moment, since the emotional state of an adult is most likely also far from ideal, but this is what makes us different from children. We can learn to control ourselves much faster and create the necessary micro-pause between emotion and reaction.
3. Create rules with children and discuss the consequences in advance
Children love rules, even if their behaviour demonstrates the opposite sometimes. Rules create stability; it is easier to live when clear rules are set. It is in our power to explain to them about the consequences of their violation.
For example: "In the evening, once dinner is done and homework is finished, you can watch cartoons for thirty minutes. However, if you cannot agree on what to watch or fight we will have to switch the TV off. Deal? What other suggestions do you have?” Usually everyone agrees, and then in case the rules are not followed the consequences come into play. And you, as the parent, are not unilaterally imposing anything: it was all pre-arranged and the consequences agreed.
4. Gradually transfer responsibility
As a very young child you had to feed him, then he took a spoon himself and smeared himself with porridge, then the whole process of breakfast-lunch-dinner became automatic and you no longer need to watch how your kids eat. The same goes with responsibility. By the age of five, a child is able to dress on his own, brush his teeth, make his bed, and, if previously they needed your help, they are in charge of these actions now.
Routines, time schedules and to-do lists help children understand their responsibilities more clearly.
5. Understand that behaviour always has reasons
As Rudolf Dreikurs taught, "A misbehaving child is a discouraged child." The child has a reason to behave this way. Let it be completely illogical or inappropriate in your opinion. Maybe she didn't get enough sleep and was tired, maybe she was hungry, maybe it is difficult for her at school, maybe her sweater is rubbing or she has a stomach ache. Sometimes, simply by mirroring the child, going to the level of her eyes, hugging her and speaking calmly, you can perform a miracle.
6. Never stop telling them that you love them unconditionally
Whenever in doubt what to do, imagine how your child is actually feeling right now. Remember how you felt when you were punished as a child, what thoughts came to your mind. What decisions did you make back then about yourself and the world around you?
Also, it might be helpful to imagine if there was instead a conflict or misunderstanding with a work colleague or with a neighbour. Would you then shout, threaten with consequences and try to prove your case and authority? Probably not.
Your child is not her actions and they need to know that you love them no matter what, even if their actions are not always in line with "good behaviour" in the way we like it.