No matter how perfect we think our children are, there will always come a time when we have to discipline them. Part of the job of being a child is learning how they fit into this world, how relationships work and what role they play. They will get it wrong, and it is perfectly normal and healthy.
As parents, it is our role to guide our children to learn the lessons that they need to so that they grow up to be productive, caring and contributing members of our society. The question is, how do we do this while remaining to be gentle and respectful parents? First, let’s look at what discipline is.
What is Discipline?
The language that we use when we discuss children, parenting and the outcomes that we expect and envision is important. It guides our thoughts and in turn our behaviour. It is essential for all parents to understand the linguistic background of the word ‘discipline’.
Etymology is the study of the history, origin, and meaning of words in the English language. The word discipline (from its Latin root of the word disciplina) means instruction, teaching, learning, and knowledge. Therefore when we discipline our children for unacceptable behaviour, we must be teaching them and instructing them so that they gain knowledge and learn a lesson.
What about punishment? Don’t we have to punish our children when they do something wrong? If you strive to be a gentle and connected parent, then no. Again, referring to the root of the word, punish (Latin: punire) means to correct, chastise, take vengeance for, inflict a penalty on or cause pain for some offense. Does that sound like a gentle parent? No.
The problem with punishment is that our child doesn’t learn. No parent wants to be frequently punishing their child. Ultimately we want our child to be taught a lesson by us through listening skills so that whatever behaviour or attitude they had isn’t repeated. That is how our children grow and develop.
How Do We Discipline Children As A Gentle Parenting?
When we use gentle, positive parenting techniques we strive to be respectful and connected to our child. The same applies to choosing discipline techniques. The question I am always asked is then, “How can I be gentle while I discipline?” There are X keys to gentle parenting discipline.
1. Have Clear Expectations
Each family has their own unique family set of family rules. A set of expectations for how members interact with each other, individual behaviours and how personal belongings are handled. You may have sat down in a formal manner and discussed this with your family (I strongly recommend you do!), or you may not have. Regardless of whether you have or not, it is crucial that you communicate your expectations to your child before they get in a sticky situation and you have to discipline them. This is where a family meeting is one of the most productive things you can do.
This is a picture of my family rules. I sat down and discussed them with my girls and they gave their opinion. I then drew them up, framed them and sat them on top of the bookshelf in the kitchen/family room area. They apply to all of us, including me. We all know our expectations. The beauty of having them drawn up this way is that when I need to discipline my daughters, I refer back to these exact rules, word for word. It has revolutionised my family.
2. Focus On Positive Behaviour
If you want to change the behaviour of your child, then stop focusing on the negative and instead, focus on the positive. A child needs six positive remarks for every negative correction. The wonderful neuropsychologist Rick Hanson describes how the mind is velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for the positive ones. It makes complete sense. I bet that you can remember a whole heap of negative things people have said to you, and far few positive. The same is for children.
When our child has positive experiences, even of discipline, they are going to want to have more of them. For example, if your kids are fighting a lot, everytime they interact nicely together (even if it over the simplest thing and for the shortest period of time), then praise them for it; “It’s lovely to see you and your brother play together “It was wonderful to hear you ask your sister to play with her Lego before you built that”. Children want our attention and our praise, so we should give it to them, for the right reasons.
3. Practice the ‘Five C’s’
What about in the moment? If we’ve set clear expectations and communicated these to our child and we’ve praised them for their positive behaviour, what do we when our child has broken these expectations? I have a technique I teach mums called the ‘Five C’s’
Remain Calm – A child does not learn a lesson when they are shouted at. They hear and feel the emotion behind your words but they won’t understand the lesson. They may be scared and enter a fight or flight response, their own stress response. In this situation, blood is shunted away from the brain and to the muscles ready to run away (in a primitive response) and creates a situation that is not conducive to learning. As parents, one of the best things we can do is to remain calm. If this is something you struggle with then read my article about Remaining Calm here or check out my programs that will help you remain calm.
Contain – This is an essential step if our child’s behaviour is impacting another (e.g. siblings fighting, aggressive or destructive behaviour). Removing our child and ourselves from a stressful situation not only helps us and our child to remain calm but allows our child to more easily hear what we say.
Connect – Before disciplining our child we should connect with them. It could be simply asking them if they are okay, or giving them a hug or perhaps even just looking at them in the eyes. This step is about ensuring that your child knows that you are there for them, and with them. Do not stand over them, point at them or talk to them with your back turned or while you are busy with something else. Get down on their level, sit down and (if safe to) be close to them.
Correct – The process of communication is not just talking to your child. It means that you speak in order for your message not only to be heard but understand. Use clear words and phrases. Reinforce the expectations you have for your child. When we talk to our children about behaviour then we must speak about ‘unacceptable behaviour’. When we discipline, it is the behaviour we are wishing to change, not our child. There are no naughty children, only children who exhibit unacceptable behaviour. If we are not clear about this distinction with our child it impacts their self-esteem, how they feel about themselves and can have a negative impact on their mental and emotional development.
Communicate Love – The final part of gentle, positive parenting discipline process is communicating love. Our children can not hear this enough and it reminds them that even if we are connected to them, appreciate them, and of course love them, even when they have unacceptable behaviour. Children don’t understand that when we discipline them or ‘tell them off’ that we are doing it from a place of love. They can interpret it as “mummy or daddy doesn’t love me anymore”. We as parents know that this is not the truth, but our kids often don’t. So it is an absolute must to say ‘I Love you’.
Why Time-Out’s Don’t Work
If you’re a parent who currently uses time-outs as a discipline technique, you may be thinking‘Why hasn’t she mentioned time-outs”. The technique of ‘time-out’ or the naughty corner/step, doesn’t work. The idea is great, getting our kids to learn about what they have done wrong by calming down and thinking about the situation. However, a child’s brain is not set up to be able to understand that process.
Let’s say a child is fighting with their brother. The children are 4 and 6 years old. A brief assessment of the situation shows that the 4-year-old is in the ‘wrong’ by snatching a toy and pushing his brother. Firstly it’s a highly emotionally charged situation for the child so he is not thinking straight. The 4-year-old has an underdeveloped neurological and higher reasoning capabilities due to his age. If he is sent to time out to think about what he’s done, he has to understand, logically and rationally process the following:
- What he’s done wrong
- Why it matter’s he’s done wrong
- How what he’s done impacts his brother
- How his brother may be feeling as a result of his behaviour
- What he should have done
- Why he should have acted differently
- How to repair the situation
Now that is a lot for a 4-year-old to understand. It is almost impossible that they would be able to process all of that, but if we send a child to time-out, that is exactly what we are expecting, the impossible. All they will understand is that their parent got angry at them, wouldn’t help them, yelled at them and put them in the corner/room all alone while they were upset without any love or care. That is the viewpoint of the child.
This is why the 5 C’s process is so important. A child cannot process a difficult situation without the help and guidance of their parent.
Now supporters of time-out’s say that it works. It does in a way. Eventually, the child will calm down because of a mechanism called learned helplessness. They don’t process the situation. They haven’t learned the lesson. Instead, all they do is realise that they just have to give up, that no-one is coming for them. This causes disruption to the child-parent attachment which has negative consequences on the child’s emotional and mental development and can cause further behaviour problems.
Understanding how to discipline children is a huge part of our role as parents. It is not one to be taken lightly. The way we discipline our children, the way we teach and guide them will help shape the adults that they become. Gentle, respectful, positive parenting techniques are proven to have the best outcomes for child and parent. Utilizing the 5 C’s process gives you a framework to be the best parent you can be to your child, in some of the most difficult moments.
If you’d like to talk more about this then leave a comment below or get in contact with me above.
Wishing you calm, parenting days