Punishment in the most basic terms is inflicting a penalty due to an offense. It is usually an authority figure imposing an unpleasant outcome or event on an individual. In the case of parenting it means when our children do something wrong we “punish” them by creating a negative outcome in order to prevent them from making that choice again. When we use punishment as our parenting style we want them to associate this bad outcome with their “bad” behavior. We want them to feel bad for what they did so that they don’t do it again.
Discipline however in its most basic terms is training or guiding a person to obey rules or a code of behavior. A discipline is a way of knowledge or learning. To disciple means to teach. When we apply this to parenting it means training, guiding, and teaching our children in order to prevent them from making that “wrong” choice. It means we are removing the negative association from our children's behavior, and using knowledge, learning, and even empathy to change behaviors and choices. We want our children to be thinking about their decisions, understanding their feelings about their choices and behavior, and deciding to make better choices in the future.
In order to discipline our children effectively without punishment, we have to come from a place of empathy and from a place of wanting to help guide them into better decisions and behaviors without making them feel bad. The best way to accomplish this is to connect with our children before we correct them. Correction is good and important. Disciplining with empathy instead of shame and guilt does not equal permissive parenting. Children still need rules and guidelines and routines in their lives. But if we ever want to correct our children effectively, we need to connect with them first.
Connection with our kiddos is so essential because children behave better when they FEEL better. We cannot expect a child to behave well when we are yelling and punishing, because that just creates more of the same negative behavior you are trying to prevent in the first place. Children act out negatively when they have negative emotions, or when they feel like they don’t belong. There is always a root feeling to their behavior that makes them act the way they do. So making them feel bad with shame and guilt just creates a cycle of negative behaviors that can be difficult to stop! When we put away the punishment and shame, and are able to connect with our kids, their brains will be in a more receptive place to hear, process, and understand your correction.
There are a couple of ways we can effectively incorporate this into our lives and our relationships with our kiddos. My tips for connecting before correcting are making sure you are eye level with your children when communicating with them. This helps them feel “equal” and it eliminates some of the power struggles. Another tip is to immediately validate the emotions you are sensing from your little one. This might look like “I can see you are sad/frustrated right now”. I also recommend giving a solution or two. “Would you like a hug to help you feel better, or would you like to snuggle your blankie?”. Looking your children in the eyes, validating their feelings, and offering a choice to feel better almost always stops a tantrum or an outburst right in its tracks. Your child will most likely feel listened to, valued, and cared for. Isn’t that our mission? We want to make sure that the message of love and acceptance is always coming across in our parenting.
Once you have connected with your child and helped them come to a calm emotional and mental state, then is the time when you can have a conversation with them about correcting the behavior. This is when you might say something like “I know you were feeling sad. Next time we feel sad, what can we do about it?”. You again, might need to offer some solutions or suggestions like the hug or the blankie, or even a healthy snack. It is more beneficial to attempt to ask questions getting them to come up with their own solution instead of telling them what to do next time. “What do you think could help you feel better?”. If they come up with the solution on their own they are learning important life skills of problem solving and emotional management, along with being more likely to follow through with it in the future since it was their own idea! Our correction should be helping our children understand that their feelings are valid, but their behavior was not acceptable. We should be helping them come up with solutions on how they manage that emotion and behavior the next time they feel that way. “I know you were angry, and we don’t hit our sister. Next time we feel angry, let’s try stomping our feet!”.
Remember that these things take time to integrate and won’t always magically work on the first try. It can take a few tries for them to really understand it and to find the solutions that work best for them. It also takes practice for us as parents and caregivers to put our own emotions aside and help guide our little ones. Our children are worth the effort and our relationships with them are so valuable. Jane Nelson of the Positive Discipline Association says we want to “create closeness and trust instead of distance and hostility by making sure the message of love gets through”. I hope these tips put a little bit more love into your parenting styles and help nurture your relationships with your children.
Our mission at Nanny Miller Agency is to support families by providing tools, community, and helping hands. We service the Metro Toledo Area and Ann Arbor. Nanny Miller Agency offers Nanny Placement services, Nanny Training, Event Childcare, Parenting Workshops, and one-on-one Parent Coaching.
Chelsea Miller is a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator and Owner of the Nanny Miller Agency.
Content based off of Dr. Jane Nelson of the Positive Discipline Association’s Parenting Tool Cards.
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