Discipline That Works: Connection BEFORE Correction

Let’s Talk discipline. Please, contain your excitement.

I work with a program that offers free parenting workshops to families with young children. It’s seriously my favorite thing to come alongside them in their parenting journey. Without fail, one issue always rears it’s ugly head first; discipline.

We all want our kids to act like they have parents at home who love them and teach them how to behave…but we all have kids who don’t act like they have parents at home who love them and teach them how to behave! I’m just as guilty as the next mama who would love a quick fix that makes my kids get it together. However, I’ve learned a little secret in my work:

Connection BEFORE Correction.

Picture it:

The minions wake you up far too early and you need a hot minute, coffee, and silence. You give in and throw them the iPad and don’t hear from them for X amount of time. Now you’re caffeinated and motivated. Except the kids have developed selective hearing and did not hear you the first 6 times you said “screen time is over!” Your demeanor becomes less Mary Poppins and more Roseanne. Whining, fighting, and general anarchy ensues. You spend the rest of your day just trying to keep everyone alive until bedtime. 

How about this? 

You’re slammed at work all week and have just enough energy when you get home to feed the family, but not much else. Your physical work day is over, but your mental tasks are never ending. You may be working extra or weird hours and you don’t see your kids for days at a time. When you are finally “off,” you have littles who want all of you, but you don’t have all to give.  Again, anarchy ensues.

There is a link between disconnection from our kids and the level of discipline we impose on our kids.

Discipline that Works: Connection Before Correction

What about those days when you take a family walk after dinner or spend time playing a board game?  Just being together and enjoying one another’s presence? Less anarchy. There’s actual science behind this. 

Extensive research proves that effective discipline cannot take place outside of meaningful connection with our kids. We cannot teach our children the ways of the world and acceptable conduct unless we are in relationship with them.

Imagine a supervisor who is only concerned with your output and shows zero interest in you as a person. When that supervisor gives you instructions or feedback, how likely are you to actually listen? If you’re like me, I’m not going to put a whole lot of emotional energy into pleasing this person (and if you’re not like me, then kudos to you). 

The same is true for our kids. 

Connection creates a sense of safety where kids are more receptive to teaching. 

This way of thinking, like anything else, requires practice. We use a great tool with our parents and kiddos called “Special Play.” It is a set amount of time where parents do something of the child’s choosing. It can be anything from making a tower out of recycling bin, building with blocks, to coloring.

During special play, be sure to:

  • Resist the urge to judge (doing the task right/wrong),
  • Resist the urge to instruct (doing something this/that way)
  • Avoid asking leading questions

What should you do during special play?

  • Be fully present
  • Reflect feelings
  • Allow the child to lead
  • Provide somewhat of a play-by-play of what they are doing and saying.

Here is an example of a Special Play session:

Julie sets a timer for 20 minutes and sits down in the living room with Jackson (age 3). Jackson can pick whatever toys in the room to play with. He chooses his train track and hot-wheel cars. Julie resists the urge to tell him those items don’t go together. Instead she says “I wonder what you’ll do with those?” Jackson begins lining his cars up on the track and says they’re going to have a race. Julie responds with, “You have those lined up just how you’d like them.”

Jackson becomes frustrated because not all cars can race at once on his train track and he begins to throw his cars. Julie, rather than a stern reprimand for throwing cars says, “I understand how that is frustrating when your cars won’t all fit like you want them to.  Would you like help picking up the cars you threw?” Julie’s response is empathetic and doesn’t instruct, judge, or evaluate.  Jackson dries his tears and sits on Julie’s lap for the remainder of their play time.  

Julie had no purpose during this session other than connecting with her son. Doing this once or twice a week continues to build that relationship and compliments other activities like playing in the yard together and reading. Julie knows her boy better and is more present, which in turn helps both of them when discipline is necessary. 

We fill our kids’ love tank by knowing and speaking their love language and taking time to simply be present with them.  Discipline then becomes the opportunity to teach and lead, rather than just another word for punishment.

Connection before correction, mamas.  It’s key to raising good humans.

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