Anyone can tell you that discipline is a messy business. Not even the best of parents could possibly get it right all the time. However, part of what complicates the process of teaching our kids to behave is that parents bring a lot of their own baggage to the table. Kids can be a big trigger of feelings from your childhood, feelings you aren’t even aware of anymore. When a child acts up, it can stir you up, making you feel intense and heated. It can cause you to feel insulted, disregarded or ashamed. The trouble is, once you’re riled up by your own emotions, you aren’t as equipped to calmly and rationally deal with your child’s.
As Dr. Daniel Siegel says in his new book No-Drama Discipline, co-authored by Dr. Tina Bryson, discipline is about teaching, not punishment. Too often, when parents feel provoked or triggered by their kids, the discipline becomes more about releasing their feelings than teaching the child. Parents will be much more effective when they get a handle on their own emotions and are able to be attuned to their kids. With that in mind, here are some rules to live by when it comes to disciplining your child:
1. Always be calm first.
When you’re wound up yourself, your behavior may not only be mis-attuned but inconsistent. For example, your child may be bouncing on the couch cushions, and you exhaustedly ignore it. Then, the minute they accidentally knock over a lamp, you scream at them, “Look what you did! Stop acting like an animal and jumping all over the furniture!” The child may already be confused. Why were you seemingly okay with the jumping just minutes before? Then, instead of stopping them when you were calm and first noticed the behavior, you blow up the second things inevitably go wrong. A parent startling them and “flipping their lid” looks very scary to children. Moreover, when children are yelled at, they rarely remember the lesson their parent was trying to get across. What they do remember is the fear that overcame them when that parent lost his or her cool. The best thing parents can do before they approach their child is to calm down themselves. Take a few breaths, find a way to relax, then address the situation.