This is a big question that we often ask ourselves as parents every.single.day. And as a psych, it’s something I’m often asked about in my job. The ever-gorgeous Lauren from The Thud posted a link yesterday to an article on iVillage (via Time) about disciplining kids. It featured two researchers, Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, who have done a ton of research on children, and on the way the brain works. They’re clever peeps. Daniel Siegel in particular is well known for his book “Parenting from the Inside Out”. He’s all about attachment, and mindfulness, and brain biology. CLEVER.
Their new book, No-Drama Discipline, has some good general ideas about discipline, like:
- Empathy is the cornerstone of discipline. Getting into the mind of our kids and trying to understand why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing. Which can be near impossible at times. But so, so important.
- It’s not about punishment, it’s about teaching. Using those moments to teach the child what to do, instead of what not to do.
Indeed. However, they then go on to talk about time-out, and how it’s a bad thing, and that it can change your kid’s brain. And putting them in time out is telling them they have no one at the time they need someone the most. Shit. Hello guilt.
There are SO many ideas out there on discipline. Time in, Time out, quiet time, controlled crying, removal of privileges, contracts, behaviour charts, planned ignoring, planned activities, 1,2,3 method, yelling, not yelling, talking, not talking, smacking, doing the anti-bullshit behaviour dance (OK, so that last one may be a made up one. But hey, could work?). They’ve all been tried and tested, a lot come with research behind them (except for the dance. But I like the dance. Test it out for me and let me know, k?), and their proponents will all praise them to the hilt.
So which one? Which research is right? Which one do you pick? Who do you listen to?
I’ll tell you which one…
Whatever the fuck works for you and your family.
Truly. You are the expert of your kids. Don’t let any shmuck tell you otherwise. You know what your child responds to, and what isn’t going to work at all. For some kids? They need some time out. They need a chance to cool down, to reflect and learn to self-regulate because in the heat of the moment there’s no reasoning with them. Others? Others crave talking things through, problem solving. Some need that carrot dangled in the form of a behaviour chart, or rewards, in order to kick start a new behaviour.
Time out doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And it’s not like they’re in there for eleventy billion hours. The whole thing with time out is that you always go back in after a short period of time, and you always work through the issue with the child. WHEN THEY’RE CALM. Time out doesn’t necessarily tell the child ‘you’ve got no one’. Time out says ‘we all need a chance to calm ourselves down’. Even as adults, sometimes we need time to ourselves to reflect and gather our thoughts. We’re not isolating our kids, we always come back to them. So before you beat yourself up about using time out, there is totes another perspective on it. Want to look at research? I’d like to see a brain scan of a child in the middle of a meltdown when a parent is trying to reason with them. Hint: It’d be batshit crazy.
Regardless of the method of discipline you use, the most important things to your kids are that you love them, and you’re focusing on what to do instead of what not to do. They’re gonna muck up. They’re little humans learning how to find their way in the world. Shit, we adults still muck up. So we can’t expect them to be all over it so early on. A couple of things I find helpful are:
- Remind yourself that it’s not personal. Your kid is not out to send you crazy. Much. At this point in time they’re totes egocentric, it’s allllll about them. They don’t realise half the time what impact their actions have on others.
- Think about the age and stage of your child. Is it developmentally appropriate? Is it a brief phase or is it more longstanding?
- Safety is what you’re focused on. If their behaviour is at a level where they are putting themselves or others at risk, do what you need to in order to keep them safe. Time in (a safe bear hug restraint) until they stop the behaviour, place them in time out if they need to be alone for a bit, physically remove them (in a gentle manner) from the issue.
- Empathy IS the key. Put yourself in your child’s shoes, and when you’re talking to them afterward, always ask them to reflect on what others might have felt as a result of their behaviour. It’s never too early to start talking empathy.
- If possible, always redirect to looking forward. Try not to dwell on the incident. Don’t force your child to say sorry, because that shit never works. Redirection is a good thing.
- The louder they get, the quieter you get. Have you ever tried to argue with someone who is whispering? Impossible! When you get quieter, it forces them to quieten down so they can hear you.
- Ensure you have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C- all of varying levels. So for minor behaviours- use something like a planned ignoring, and then talk with your child later. Plan B might be quiet time on the periphery of the activity, and Plan C might be time out/behaviour dance/time in/contract/whatever the fuck is going to work for your kid
- The best possible defence is a good offence. Plan shit out. If you know your cherub goes nuts in public places, sit down and get a bit of a routine cracking. Talk to them about the expectations in public. Have a couple of key ideas they can take with them. Provide activities to help keep them occupied.
- Use your village! Get support for you. When you’re feeling calm and supported, it’s so much easier to deal with crazy shit.
And finally- a word on smacking. We’ve been back and forth on this smacking debate for yonks. My take on it is- monkey see, monkey do. If you hit your child as a form of discipline, it kinda says to them ‘hey when something like x happens you need to hit’. And they then go out into the world and try that out on others. Not always of course, and many of us were smacked and turned out ok (except for that minor eye twitch. But we won’t talk about that), but I think when it comes to discipline, the main question is ‘what does this form of discipline teach them?’ Smacking doesn’t teach the child what to do, or how to handle a shitty sitcho. It just circuit breaks things and detracts from the real issue at hand. The other thing is with discipline strategies, you want something that can be transferrable across settings, and consistent. Because kids love that shit. You can’t take smacking into school with the child, and you can’t take smacking onto the sporting field either. Would be a tad awks. You want to make it simple for yourself, and you want your child to be getting the one kind of idea that can go between home, school, activities, the whole shebang. That’s just my 2 cents. Again, whatever the fuck works for you and your child, and of course as long as no harm is caused, to either of you!
If you’re worried that you don’t have enough tricks up your sleeve, or if you feel your child’s behaviour might be starting to venture outside of the norm, go and see your GP and get a referral to a psych. Or your local Child Health Service should also offer some neat parenting programs for free. You can also check out:
- Triple P
- 1,2,3 Magic Parenting
- Do read Sigel’s “Parenting from the Inside Out” has some interesting tips
And if you’re a bit ‘awww shit Dr. Sash. You’ve been a bit sketchy on specific discipline ideas’ yep I have. For now. Because every child is different and every strategy caters for different thing. There’s no one size fits all approach. But I’ll get another post out describing alllllll the ideas out there in more detail for you, and if you want a specific issue answered, drop me a message! Pop your query on the Facebook page or message or email and I’ll do my best to get some ideas together for you.
What’s your take on disciplining children?