Do you struggle with controlling your own emotions when your child is struggling to control theirs?
The next time your child behaves in an undesirable way, some of the very best advice I can give you is to pause, put a space between your child’s behaviour and your response to them. Take time to think about your goals and respond in a mindful way.
The acronym SPACE denotes five steps toward effective, gentle discipline:
- Stay calm
- Proper expectations
- Affinity with your child
- Connect and contain emotions
- Explain and set a good example
Let’s look at each of the steps in turn:
When your child pushes your buttons and you feel yourself getting stressed or angry, you should absolutely not discipline him until you are calm. Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and slowly exhale. Repeat as often as necessary until you can think more clearly. Sometimes you have to give yourself a ‘time out’. That is, move away from your child temporarily, so that you can think more clearly.
You wouldn’t punish a fish for not being able to walk or a cat for not being able to talk. Yet many authoritarian discipline methods punish kids simply for being kids, without an acknowledgment of their age-appropriate level of brain development. Before you respond to your child’s actions, ask yourself, “Does she understand what she has done? Could she have controlled it? Does she have the brain development to do better?” If the answer is no, your response is likely to be very different.
Affinity with Your Child
Gentle discipline requires you to separate your dislike of your child’s behavior from your feelings toward the child him- or herself. Too many parents mix up the behavior and the child. Your child remains the same one whom you love dearly, no matter what he has done. Having an affinity with someone means that you have an essential connection and an understanding of each other. It is this understanding, this empathy, that will aid you in disciplining your child gently. Hold on to it, whatever your child has done. Remind yourself of how much you love him, and try to view his actions from his perspective. Ask yourself why he did what he did. And how is he feeling right now? This will not only help you to understand his actions but also to solve the problem and discipline appropriately, as well as to stay calm.
Connect and Contain Emotions
At all ages, children need their parents to guide them and help them to manage their feelings. We have a level of brain development that they simply don’t have, even as teenagers and early twentysomethings. We are mature enough to “hold” some of our child’s big feelings as well as our own, to help them to calm down. Of course, in order to do this, we have to look after ourselves too. The secret to emotional intelligence is knowing that all emotions are OK; it’s how we manage them that matters. Until your child learns how to manage her emotions, it is your role to externally manage them, while leading him or her in the direction of self-control.To contain your child’s feelings, you must connect with her.Your compassion and support will guide her toward becoming the person you hope she will be. The best discipline happens when you work as a team.
Explain and Set a Good Example
This stage can happen only when both you and your child are calm and well connected. One of the main reasons that discipline fails is because of a lack of one of these, or sometimes both.
Explaining should be age appropriate. Your communication with your child needs to be at a level that he can understand, and often discipline falls short here too. Think carefully about how you will communicate. It isn’t just your words that matter, but how you say them too. Your child is watching you just as much as he’s listening to you. If you shout, you indicate to him that not only is shouting OK but it’s what he should do when he’s angry with someone or when somebody does something that he doesn’t like. If your child hits someone, the very last thing you should do is hit him in the name of discipline. If you do, your example shows him that hitting is OK, and that it’s a good way to resolve differences and conflict. Your explanation and example should show your child, clearly, how to handle situations. After all, as we’ve said, the best teachers lead by example. The same is true for discipline.
Putting SPACE between your child’s actions and your discipline allows you to focus on your true goal—that of teaching her to do and be better. Of course, your teachings need to be flexible. All children are unique and all situations, even with the same child, are unique. Working with SPACE should put you on the right track.
This is a small excerpt from my Gentle Discipline Book. Available in paperback, e-book and audio download from the following retailers:
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