So, what are many of the methods out there that promise parents that their defiant children will become accommodating and do as they are told, thus reducing conflict in the house? Common punitive behaviour-orientated methods (such as the use of time-outs, naughty steps and star charts implemented by the parent) tend to involve:
- parents dictating the discipline event without full knowledge and the input or perspective of their children
- non-transparent processes, where the child has not been involved in helping to find a solution.
These methods focus more on parental control. They make sense to the parents rather than to children, yet do not achieve effective outcomes, and they can impact on children’s wellbeing.
Parents might believe that children know what they have done wrong and why they are being told off. This is only correct some of the time. For example, when children as young as two have been sent to time-out they don’t really know why they are in there. They might parrot back what they have heard their parents say, but it tends to have little meaning for them.
It has even been suggested that children ‘get a look’ when they know they have done something ‘naughty’. But — and this is important — children are scientists and do want to experiment. Some might know that the activity or behaviour might not be the best thing to do, but they don’t tend to do it to be intentionally naughty. They are motivated to check things out. If they are intentionally naughty, there is often another reason for their behaviour — usually an unmet need. It is our job to work out what is going on, or at least try to understand that there is a reason for their unhelpful behaviour — even if we don’t know what it is!
In fact, it can be the parents’ beliefs that define children as naughty which in turn can almost cause the child to respond according to their parents’ negative beliefs and expectations. How you are perceived is often how you behave.
Unfortunately, many traditional discipline approaches commonly used today do not suggest that parents reflect on their own beliefs and behaviours. I believe this is unhelpful for you, your child and your relationship with your child. For example, methods that are more behaviour-orientated, with outcomes dictated by the parent and not discussed or negotiated with the child, are often only effective in that moment rather than long-term. Yet, they can impact on the child’s sense of self and how they interact with others in the future.
For example, time-outs are considered to work in the short-term but not so much in the long-term. In fact, research has found that time-outs, if handled inappropriately, can serve to address only the surface behaviours of the child and ignore the potentially more complex underlying motivation for their behaviour. They can also, unintentionally, cause children to feel hurt and humiliated, which is not helpful to their development or to the parent–child relationship. End result — a lack of attunement between parent and child, which can negatively affect the relationship and how each person feels within the relationship.
I am going to be a little blunt here!
Parenting, particularly relating to discipline, is not about controlling children, or teaching them lessons in a punitive way, breaking their spirit or making them become compliant. In fact, when I hear that some children are very compliant I do sometimes wonder why. Yes, children have different temperaments, but children can and do learn that it is too scary to check things out and speak up.
Children are amazing, and we could probably learn a lot about how they view the world. When authors or experts imply that it is OK to laugh about the way children are typically naughty, and that it is understandable that parents have to use harsh discipline methods because of how children behave, I question just how respectful that is to children.
I think most people would agree that they would prefer people not to laugh at their behaviour or motives. Parents and children laughing together, at the ridiculousness of the situation — fantastic! But it is not helpful to make children the ‘monsters’. Instead, it is helpful to acknowledge their need to explore, be scientists, experiment and get to know themselves as ‘beings’.
Maybe we should laugh at our own behaviour instead? It can certainly help to laugh at ourselves, to know we don’t have to be perfect, but instead be self-compassionate about our attempts at parenting.
Giving you and your child a voice
One of the primary goals for the new discipline methods provided in this book is to provide a voice for you and your child, to help you to reach a discipline event solution together. How this occurs will be discussed throughout this book, but first let’s look at attachment, a core ingredient needed to ensure the relationship between parent and child is attuned and effective, and promotes the wellbeing of your child.
(Attachment will also be discussed in Chapter 3.)
Attachment includes how well the parent and child communicate, work through issues, experience trust and perceive safety. How effective these interactions are as children mature is usually a result of the type of attachment that has developed between them. I won’t spend a lot of time on this topic as there are some wonderful resources which describe attachment and its process in more detail. However, I want to emphasise that how parents communicate and respond to their children’s needs over time (but particularly when children are young) influences the attachment type and continues to do so. (Note: the attachment type can be fluid — meaning it can change depending on the child’s experiences with their environment and parent.)
Broadly speaking, there are three commonly discussed attachment types:
- secure attachment
- insecure attachment
- disorganised attachment.
The optimal attachment type is a secure attachment, occurring when the parent and child have established communication and responses within their relationship that children come to understand as predictable and consistent; where the parent sensitively responds to the needs of the child in a way that makes sense to the child the majority of the time.
A secure attachment enables the child to form a solid foundation from which to explore the world. How parents and children interact with and respond to each other will help the child develop a ‘blueprint’, otherwise known as an ‘internal working model’ (discussed in more detail in Chapter 3), that they refer to and rely on as they go forth into the world. So, importantly, your responses and interactions with your children help shape their feelings of safety and security. Thus, it is helpful when communicating with your child to be aware of and reflect on what you are doing and saying.
Children are resilient, however, and it does take a lot to cause a significant attachment issue. If you can keep in mind the ‘good enough’ approach to parenting, but take on board how you might want to do things differently, if only to improve your relationship with your child and for your child to make sense of the world — fantastic!