When all is going smoothly—meaning the children are happy and the parents are too—it seems easy to be respectful. When kids are doing something they aren’t supposed to be doing, such as pulling on the dog’s tail, knocking over a sibling’s tower of blocks, or avoiding homework, it’s not as easy to feel respect toward them or maintain an attitude of wonder toward their world. Some behaviors do need some sort of intervention, though threats and punishment will fall short. Effective discipline includes closeness, playfulness, and emotional understanding.
If your oldest is teasing his younger sibling—again—causing an outburst of emotional dysregulation, don’t get hooked. Outbursts by your children don’t need to be the foundation of your response. If they do trigger you, understand that you are simply reacting and losing an important opportunity for a teachable moment. You may need to put a stop to the misbehavior but at the same time suggest that everyone cool off and later you will have a thoughtful conversation about the situation. The teachable moment can wait, and it will be more effective when you are calm.
Earlier Parenting Playbook messages have explained that lots of misbehavior is really the result of a child feeling disconnected. Most kids who feel connected want to be cooperative and thoughtful. Therefore, if a storm is brewing, think about how you can reconnect with your child. Have you had time to cuddle, play, or just hang out together? Are you exhausted and need your cup refilled? A hug, quiet time together, a game, or a snack and a talk can be good ways to reconnect. Meetings on the couch also provide a chance to reconnect and eliminate the power struggles of a timeout.
You can also play as a way to teach, which is another word for discipline. If you are having trouble with a child who is sassy and talking back, pick up two dolls and have one talk back to the other, imitating the nasty behavior. Make up some good natty comebacks of your own. A playful tone will help everyone.
Effective discipline also incorporates looking underneath the behaviors to discover a child’s feelings and needs. If you can view the behaviors as a coded message to you, what is your child really trying to say? It makes more sense to figure out what is going on for your child than to react to the behavior. For example, if your child is feeling bad, bored, sad, or overwhelmed by something, it doesn’t make much sense to say, “It looks like you feel discouraged, so I am going to yell at you,” or “It seems as if you are bored, so I am going to send you to your room.”
Remember that effective discipline includes closeness, playfulness, and emotional understanding. You are so important to your child’s world—respond to misbehavior with care rather than your own outburst.