Disciplining is more than managing behavior. Disciplining your child involves teaching. Through discipline, you will develop your child’s social, emotional, and moral intelligence. The words you choose when you discipline can either activate the higher thinking brain or trigger the lower brain in a reaction to feelings of threat and attack. Words do matter.

“Thinking words” are the words that have developmental benefits for your child because thinking words tap the connections to your child’s higher thinking brain. Research indicates that when an adult helps a child find words to match feelings, brain pathways are established between the emotional brain and the higher brain area. These are the pathways that are critical for children to develop so they can manage strong feelings and stress later in life.

“Demanding words,” or words sometimes called “fighting words,” are detrimental to your child’s brain because they demand obedience without thought. It is important for children to have the ability to think things through if they are going to learn self-regulation. In addition, if the fear system in the developing brain is often activated in the name of discipline, lifelong struggles with anxiety and phobias can result.

Demanding words also often activate disobedience. Demanding blind obedience only teaches children about submission and dominance. Demanding obedience implies there is no conversation, no opportunity for thinking, and no opportunity for learning why, why not, what happens if …, and so forth. Often, demanding words shame and humiliate. For some children, this kind of discipline will light up their rage system in the brain. You may achieve a compliant child in the short term, but a rage system that has been repeatedly activated will be expressed at some point later in life, whether it is at the elementary schoolyard or in the form of adolescent self-harm and violence.

When you discipline your child, you have the opportunity to develop his or her social, emotional, and moral intelligence. Take the time to find out what painful feelings may have triggered the out-of-balance behavior that is causing the need for discipline—rather than shaming, humiliating, or demanding obedience from your child. Using thinking words that connect words to feelings are critical to your child’s ability to manage strong emotions and stressful experiences later in life.

More to consider . . . .

The development of the social brain . . .

The development of your child’s social brain includes developing the ability to be sensitive to others, to empathize, and to accurately imagine what another person is experiencing emotionally. The social brain develops from interactions with others. Children need to have someone model behavior that shows a thinking response to strong emotions and stresses and to interact with them in an emotionally sensitive way to promote the healthy development of their social brain.