Let’s talk about something that can be a little controversial – disciplining children.
Yes, children need discipline, but the actual definition of discipline means ‘to guide’. To effectively guide others we do not have to be punitive nor do we have to threaten / reject them.
For example, if I had a boss who was trying to guide me in my new job, I would much prefer they discuss things with me rather than control me, punish me as I’m learning, or shame me by forcing me into isolation where I am left alone to regulate my own emotions.
A good boss or manager takes the time to sit down with those they are guiding to explain things, validate their employees’ feelings, and help them learn how to work with the team. That approach is far more conducive to gaining cooperation and builds connection in the relationship.
By creating a safe relationship that isn’t based on punishment, the child feels emotionally safe to share what is really going on for them.
All Behavior Is Communication
Another key point we need to remember: All behavior is communication. Our children communicate to us
more often with their behavior than with words. So a child who is hitting repeatedly has something else going on. We need to get curious…
Either they don’t know how to regulate their emotions, maybe they’re being bullied, or they could be jealous and insecure of a sibling. There are a million reasons.
By not punishing or rejecting a child when they’re angry / hitting – you’re maintaining connection so you’re able to actually guide them into the healthy behavior. You keep the phone lines open, so to speak, so you can still reach them.
We can’t control our kids. Well you can. Temporarily. But it never works long-term or creates a mentally healthy human. All we can really do is guide and influence. And punishment diminishes the influence.
Prioritise a Positive Relationship
If we want them to listen to our guidance, come to us with problems, we need to prioritize a positive relationship with them. This is hard because it requires us as parents to be more emotionally regulated. But parenting this way is far more rewarding and enjoyable. It also raises young adults who are connected to their parents, creates adolescents who come to their parents for help and feel safe to tell them when they’ve made a mistake (a common part of growing up) because they know their parent won’t shame them.
Long term, the research shows significantly lower instances of anxiety, depression etc in children who are patented respectfully. Parents often say to me “I just want my kids to be happy” – and this method is a pathway towards that. However, it is often very hard for people to process because it’s so different to the way previous generations were raised. Culturally, there is a lot of resistance to the change and the seemingly absurd concepts like ‘not having punishments or time-outs’.
Kids who are raised without punishment and instead are raised with cooperation, discussion and empathy tend to:
- Be more open to parental guidance by choice rather than by force.
- Have more self-discipline because when we ask them to give up what they want, they are choosing to do what we have asked. Punishment doesn’t allow kids to choose – they’re forced into it – so they don’t get to develop their self discipline in the same way.
- Be more emotionally regulated, rather than explosive or suppressing of their feelings due to the fear of punishment / rejection / shame / displeasing the parent.
Our 2 Greatest Fears
Second part to this topic …
Universally, the two most common fears we all have are: “am I enough?” (skinny enough, smart enough, rich enough, good enough) and “am I loveable?” (worthy of love and belonging, having value just as I am).
Conventional parenting styles that use punishments, timeouts, rewards (positive reinforcement) and other forms of control teach children they are only worthy WHEN… or they only have my love/adoration IF…
And even though the research supports everything I have written above – I can also vouch for it as a therapist. Talking to thousands of people throughout my career – hearing stories of suffering, eating disorders, low self-esteem, trauma, abuse, abandonment, anxiety and depression.
So many people who come see me for various things, have wounds within them from well-intentioned parents who didn’t mean to harm them, but inadvertently communicated to them repeatedly throughout their childhood, and for many into adulthood: ‘you are only enough WHEN…’ and ‘you are loveable if you act THIS way, but not THAT way’.
“If they please me, impress me, do what I want… THEN they will have my approval and be worthy of my love.”
And so much of the “I’m not enough” mindset we see in the world today and the “I’m only loveable/worthy if…” originates from how we were parented.
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