This list is an excerpt from one of my favorite books on parenting, No-Drama Discipline. The section is called “Twenty Discipline Mistakes Even Great Parents Make”. I split it into two parts.
1. Our discipline becomes consequence-based instead of teaching-based. The goal of discipline is not to make sure that each infraction is immediately met with a consequence. The real goal is to teach our children how to live well in the world. So when you discipline, ask yourself what your real objective is. Then find a creative way to teach that lesson. You can probably find a better way to teach it without even using consequences at all.
2. We think that if we’re disciplining, we can’t be warm and nurturing. It really is possible to be calm, loving, and nurturing while disciplining your child. In fact, it’s important to combine clear and consistent boundaries with loving empathy. Don’t underestimate how powerful a kind tone of voice can be as you have a conversation with your child about the behavior you want to change. Ultimately, you’re trying to remain strong and consistent in your discipline while still interacting with your child in a way that communicates warmth, love, respect and compassion. These two aspects of parenting can and should coexist.
3. We confuse consistency with rigidity. Consistency means working from a reliable and coherent philosophy so that our kids know what we expect of them. It doesn’t mean maintaining an unswerving devotion to some sort of arbitrary set of rules. So at times you might make exceptions to the rules, turn a blind eye to some sort of minor infraction, or cut your child some slack.
4. We talk too much. When kids are reactive and having a hard time listening, we often need to just be quiet. When we talk and talk at our upset children, it’s usually counterproductive. We’re just giving them a lot of sensory input that can further dysregulate them. Instead, use more nonverbal communication. Hold them. Rub their shoulders. Smile or offer empathic facial expressions. Nod. Then, when they begin to calm down and are ready to listen, you can redirect by bringing in the words and addressing the issue on a more verbal, logical level.
5. We focus too much on the behavior and not enough on the why behind the behavior. Any good doctor knows that a symptom is only a sign that something else needs to be addressed. Children’s misbehavior is usually a symptom of something else. It will keep occurring if we don’t connect with our kids’ feelings and their subjective experiences that lead to the behavior. The next time your child acts out, put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and look through the behavior to see what feelings – curiosity, anger, frustration, exhaustion, hunger, and so on – might be causing the behavior.
6. We forget to focus on how we say what we say. What we say to our kids matters. Of course it does. But just as important is how we say it. Although it’s not easy, we want to aim for being kind and respectful every time we communicate with our kids. We won’t always be able to hit this mark, but that should be our goal.
7. We communicate that our kids shouldn’t experience big or negative feelings. When your child reacts intensely when something doesn’t go his way, do you ever shut down the reaction? We don’t mean to, but parents can often send the message that we’re interested in being with our kids only if they’re happy, and not when they’re expressing negative emotions. We may say things like, “When you’re ready to be nice, then you can rejoin the family.” Instead, we want to communicate that we will be there for them, even at their absolute worst. Even as we say no to certain behaviors or to how certain feelings get expressed, we want to say yes to our kids’ emotions.
8. We overreact, so our kids focus on our overreaction, not their own actions. When we overshoot the mark with our discipline – if we’re punitive, or we’re too harsh, or we react too intensely – our children stop focusing on their own behavior and focus instead on how mean or unfair they feel we are. So do whatever you can to avoid building mountains out of molehills. Address the misbehavior and remove your child from the situation if you need to, then give yourself time to calm down before saying much, so you can be calm and thoughtful when you respond. Then you can keep the focus on your child’s actions rather than your own.
9. We don’t repair. There’s no way we can avoid experiencing conflict with our kids. And there’s no way we’ll always be on top of our game in how we handle ourselves. We’ll be immature, reactive, and unkind at times. What’s most important is that we address our own misbehavior and repair the breach in the relationship as soon as possible, most likely by offering and asking for forgiveness. By repairing as soon as we can in a sincere and loving manner, we model for our children a crucial skill that will allow them to enjoy much more meaningful relationships as they grow up.
10. We lay down the law in an emotional, reactive moment, then realize we’ve overreacted. Sometimes our pronouncements can be a bit “supersized”: “You can’t go swimming for the rest of the summer!” In these moments, give yourself permission to rectify the situation. Obviously, follow-through is important or you’ll lose credibility. But you can be consistent and still get out of the bind. For example, you can offer the “one more chance” card by saying, “I didn’t like what you did, but I’m going to give you another try at handling things the right way.” You can also admit that you overreacted: “I got mad earlier, and I wasn’t thinking things through very well. I’ve thoughts about it again and I’ve changed my mind.”
I am my worst critic. I am especially hard on myself when it comes to parenting. At one point or another, I am guilty with all of these ten mistakes. I write about this today to remind myself that it is ok. All I can do is learn from them and try again! I suppose the most important lesson parenting has taught me is that I need to be careful with my life decisions because another life is depending on me to make the best and right ones.
I suppose the most important lesson parenting has taught me is that I need to be careful with my life decisions because another life is depending on me to make the best and right ones. What’s yours?