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Connection before correction a good way of instilling discipline

OPINION
By Calel Otieno | July 8th 2021

There are many occasions when children's behaviour needs to be guided. [Courtesy]

It can be quite challenging to adapt your parenting habits when you were raised in a certain way and had particular phrases and reactions to situations applied to you when you were growing up. It is natural to emulate what you know, but is that always the best thing to do?

As part of discovering their place in the world, children will often behave in ways that adults - especially parents - view as less desirable. They will discover, test and push to find the limits as they seek to exercise their independence. As parents, this can be a wonderful thing to watch. At other times, however, it can bring us to our knees or test our patience severely.

There are many occasions when children's behaviour needs to be guided. This, however, needs to be done in a manner that does not damage the child’s self-esteem. Research has proven that children learn best when they have a sense of belonging. Connection before correction is one of the 21st century favoured methods of instilling discipline in children. 

Default setting

At first glance, this positive parenting method sounds like parenting without consequences for bad behaviour. On the contrary, parenting through connection is a strategic method based on the idea that as a parent, your relationship with your child is the most important thing and that you can help them develop self-discipline.

When the brain perceives a threat, the body goes into its default setting: What is known as fight or flight mode. This happens with all of us, adults and children alike. The perception of threat happens quickly, automatically and generally out of our awareness. Therefore, it is important to find positive discipline parenting tools that do not come across as a threat to your child. This would lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms on the child’s part where they may develop aggression or become withdrawn altogether. Here are a few guidelines that will help you.

Safe and secure

First, it is important to note that the word discipline comes from ‘disciple’, which means to ‘teach’, as opposed to ‘punish’. Teaching children life lessons that matter will only happen when they experience a consistent feeling of being safe and secure.

As a parent or guardian, remember to create a connection between yourself and your child. Actively put time in your schedule to spend quality over quantity time with your child and really get to know them. This will ultimately build a stronger parent-child bond and a sense of trust. It also nurtures a sense of belonging. When a child does not feel a strong sense of belonging, they will act out in ways that they (mistakenly) believe will give them the emotional connection and positive attention they crave. Building a connection means building trust and they will feel they can easily approach you with their concerns and challenges. 

And when they do, stop whatever you are doing and give your child your undivided attention. It’s important to show your child that you are listening so that they feel heard. Being an active listener does not mean you cannot respond, but being patient and slow to respond demonstrates that you are present and really care about what they have to say. That way, you validate your child’s feelings.

Validation is a way of letting the child know that you understand them. Being understood is an essential ingredient to feeling connected and supported. If they express feelings a certain way, accept it then explore what this means. Avoid the urge to correct what you think they are feeling. Remember that children will listen to you after they feel listened to. Children also feel a connection when you share something about yourself with them, especially experiences they may be touched by or surprised to know about.

For best results, explore and focus on solutions with children after a cooling-off period. The golden bridge to connection is working out a solution with your child as a team. Break down the problem into parts and analyse it. Help your child to be a flexible thinker by asking them to comment on the specific situation. 

While at it, allow them to ask questions. This will help children explore the consequences of their choices instead of imposing consequences on them. Sincere questions open the heart and the rational thinking that provides a connection. Encourage your child to practice critical and logical thinking by asking him open-ended questions to find a suitable solution.

Tough questions

Even when they ask many tough questions, hug them. There are times when all of us need nothing more than a hug, even as adults. The importance of hugging your child cannot be underestimated. Hugging provides many benefits, but is particularly important for a child. Hugging makes us feel good, no doubt, but when we are sad or disappointed, a big warm hug can alleviate some of the pain and create instant connection and security in your child’s mind.

Bear in mind too that much of positive parenting is in the tone. You can be firm and hold your children to high standards while still being loving.

Finally, when you are invested in connecting before correcting your child’s behaviour, you will experience important benefits. In the moment, your children will move from a defensive, reactive state to a receptive one. They will listen. 

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