Children seek attention. They want to know they are loved. They want to know where the boundaries and borders are. And just like the grown-ups around them, they want to be in control, because being in control feels important.
When discipline is needed, it is often because a power struggle has arisen between you. Ultimately, when your boundaries are clear, communication is open, and needs are being met, there will be no reason for discipline at all. Everything will become a conversation, a seeking to understand, or a course correction.
Begin with these 9 ways to bring joy in where fear used to be, and watch your relationships blossom...
1. Take punishment out of discipline
Don't punish your children. Instead, try to see what need or needs they were trying to meet with their behavior, and respond constructively to that. Did they want your attention? Were they bored? Are they testing boundaries? What, exactly, is going on?
2. Teach them
Most humans, by nature, want to please the other humans around them. Your child is no different. If, instead of punishing, you aim to teach them a better way, you will win over your audience, and give them the tools they need to succeed with you.
For example, a mother of teen daughters recently shared with me that she always taught her girls, when they were ready, to make the decision to have sex consciously and rationally, rather than in the heat of the moment. She instructed them to come to her when they'd made the decision, and she promised to make sure they had proper birth control and protection without judging or punishing them. Both of her daughters have followed this instruction, and mom kept her promise, creating an open, ongoing conversation. And because they felt secure and empowered, both waited longer than their peers, and both were in healthy, serious, long term relationships.
3. Be a role model
Practice what you preach. Your children will absolutely model their behavior after yours, whether it's acting just like you, or rebelling and being your opposite. YOU have the most impact in who your child becomes. The best (and truly only) way to change your child's behavior is to change your own. Be the person you want your child to become, and surround yourself with the kinds of people and relationships you want your child to have.
4. Let them make choices
As soon as your child is old enough to point, give them choices. Many a sobbing, screaming tantrum can be avoided by simply giving your child a choice of appropriate options. For example, "Do you want to wear this dress, or this one?" Notice that YOU have chosen two appropriate dresses, you are simply allowing your child to make the final decision about which one to wear. Allow your children to feel empowered. When they feel like their opinions matter, you get buy-in from them, and when you have buy-in, life is easy.
5. Take the language of war out of your vocabulary
You and your child are on the same team. You shouldn't be choosing battles or trying to win wars: You are family. Ask yourself, "How can we resolve this?" instead of, "How can I force my will here?"
6. Keep your word
Your child needs to be able to trust you, and in order for them to trust you, you must keep your word. This means no empty threats. If you say, "We are going to leave the park if you throw sand again," then you must unceremoniously pick up and leave the park the next time sand is thrown (as consequence for action, not punishment). And if you say, "Give me 5 minutes to finish my work, then I'll read you a story," make sure you are reading that story in 5 minutes, even if your child is happily playing elsewhere. Their willingness to go play is a sign that they trust you, not that they've lost interest.
7. Distract from unwanted behavior
The younger the child, the easier it is to pick them up and re-direct their attention. If they are poking the power outlet, don't scream, hit, or freak out. Pick them up and give them something appropriate to play with instead. If you make a big deal out of the power outlet, they will understand that it's important, and it gets your attention, and it will draw them like a siren song.
8. Love unconditionally
Don't make your children earn your love or acceptance. Give it to them freely, even when (maybe especially when) they are misbehaving. That is the moment when they need your love the absolute most. Whenever a child (or adult, for that matter) is acting out, it is because they have needs that are not being met, be they mental, emotional, or physical. If you can look past the behavior, and discover the need beneath it, it will be much easier to remain in a loving, compassionate space.
9. Catch them being good
At random moments, tell your child, "I know something good about you!" Then smile and walk away. They love to know you think highly of them, and will want to know what you know. They want to see themselves through your eyes. Oh, and when they chase after you in delight, asking what it is, go ahead and tell them something you admire about them.
What are your favorite parenting tips? Share in the comments below!
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