As parents, we may want to immediately respond to misbehavior with punishment because that is what we know. As mentioned in the previous post, there are some questions to consider before stepping in. You might decide your child is misbehaving, because they are hungry or tired. No matter the circumstance, it’s important to connect with your child first rather than immediately defaulting to punishment.
Benefits to Connecting First
When kids are upset, this is when they need us most. They may be overwhelmed with what is going on around them and all the big emotions that they are experiencing. They are still developing and may not yet have the ability to manage those emotions. If we can connect with them, this helps calm the “storm” and allows them to be more receptive to the lesson that we want to teach them. When we connect with our children, it allows them to feel like you understand how they are feeling.
Connection helps build the brain, as it develops the areas responsible for self-control, empathy, and personal insight. Empathy is when we can get “step into another person’s shoes,” so we feel what the other person feels.
Connection also helps build your relationship with your child. Connection can be hard when our children are at their worst. My toddler has gone into full-blown tantrum mode when she’s told no cake or candy before dinner. And I mean, it can be an ugly tantrum! However, I still connect with her by saying, “I know you are angry, because you want the candy and the cake. I really like cake and candy too.” Once I connect, I explain to my daughter that it’s important that we eat dinner first, so she can get big and strong. And then after she eats, she can have the treat.
But, shouldn’t we be ignoring tantrums?
There are times when children are acting distressed in order to get something, such as a cookie or toy. In this case, the tantrum should be ignored. However, most times, tantrums occur when children can’t manage their emotions. So, tantrums can be thought of as a “plea for help,” in that, they need our comfort and help in returning them to a state of calm. When we can consistently respond to our children when they need us, this can help them develop the ability to regulate their own emotions.
When we connect with our children, we are not letting our children do whatever they want. We may need to step in and stop our child from engaging in an impulse such as destroying a toy. When we connect, we are simply letting our children know that we are there for them.
How should we connect?
First of all, know that you are not spoiling your child by giving a lot of yourself to them (such as love and attention). But, as parents, we should still set limits and not give in to our child’s every desire. For example, I shouldn’t allow my daughter to continue to yell and scream in the store when she didn’t get the toy she wanted. As a parent, I would say to her, “I know you really wanted that toy, and I can see that you are upset. Let me help you.” In this situation, I would then take her to a safe place to calm down. It could be a bathroom, going outside, or back to the car (I’d start with the first two options, and if she still couldn’t calm down, I’d take her to the car).
Connection starts by paying attention to the present moment and what your child needs at that time. For example, my daughter had an issue with hitting me. Instead of becoming frustrated because this was an ongoing behavior, I needed to think about what was going on that the time. Was she having a hard time communicating to me what she wanted? This all involves figuring out the “why.”
When connecting with our children, we also want to consider how we interact with them. When my daughter would hit me, I would get down on her level and look at her, and with a sad face, tell her calmly that it hurt me. This would be in contrast to yelling at her how it hurt.
The first response to misbehavior, therefore, should be to connect with our children and let them know we care about them and that we understand them. Then, we redirect them. This will be discussed in the next post.
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2016). No-drama discipline: The whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing mind. Bantam Books: New York.