Have you ever had the experience of your child trying to get your attention, not succeeding and then taking their efforts up a disturbing notch? I was recently working with a parent who went through this very experience. The question was, “how do we handle these moments in a way that respects both parent and child and also teaches children how to get what they need in healthy ways?”
Here’s what happened: This young daughter was trying to get her mom’s attention. First, she interrupted and tugged on her mom’s arm. When that didn’t work she yelled loudly and after several more attempts her behavior turned more discouraging and in frustration, she pushed her sister out of the way. This finally got mom to notice and respond with what seemed like a reasonable time out. I see this dynamic happen all the time with all ages. Kids are trying to get their needs met while parents are trying to handle many needs of many people at the same time. Everyone is doing their best and truly love each other.
But somehow the now common idea of giving kids consequences has unwittingly become a more subtle version of punishment. And here’s the truth, punishment doesn’t teach kids the lessons we think it does. Research has shown that punishment teaches children that their mistakes must be hidden, to avoid getting caught and that superiors aren’t safe or to be trusted. In the end, kids don’t learn how to take responsibility for actions and how to clear up mistakes or repair them when they are punished. They simply end up mad, hurt and powerless.
No parent wants to leave their children feeling this way, but we have few to no role models for how to interact with our kids in powerful and encouraging ways. Yet strong family relationships that yield caring and responsible children depend on us, the parents. And the truth is, there are so many alternatives to punishment that address behaviors that don’t work and train children to find healthy ways to get their needs met. We can raise the bar in our listening, understanding and parenting approaches to our unique children and family dynamics.
Do you want to know what happened with the daughter after her time out? She came back to her mother, and in a very calm and nonjudgmental tone explained to her mother why she needed her and why she had to get her attention the way she did. Her mother was astonished to see her young girl communicate with such poise and clarity.
What I witnessed was the lesson that all children have the need to belong, and as parents, it is our job to foster their belonging in positive ways, which in turn builds confidence, compassion, resilience, and responsibility in children. This is how we set them up powerfully for adulthood.
For more ideas about discipline, check out our upcoming webinar Stop the Yelling, Start the Cooperation. For more information and to register, click here.
This post originally appeared in the Family Leadership Center blog by Marjie Longshore, a Certified PEP Parent Educator. Marjie is the founder of the Family Leadership Center in Yarmouth, Maine.
Can I ask, what would you have recommended the mom do in that situation (instead of giving a time out?)