I recently received a question on my Instagram: How do you substitute connection for discipline when your child continues to make bad choices?
The first thing I want to point out is that we’re not trying to substitute connection for discipline. They should happen together. Connection should happen when you are disciplining. We don’t throw connection out the window when we’re disciplining. In fact, connection is the most important thing to ensure that your child feels heard and seen, especially during a time that’s difficult—like disciplining.
So let’s talk about how we create disconnection. Disconnection comes from yelling, shaming, blaming, placing guilt on our children. Shunning them. Sometimes we put them in a time out or just say, “Leave me alone,” or we yell at them. All of that shuts our children down. It makes them feel like they aren’t loved. Even if we say “I love you, but”—that doesn’t work. We don’t want to create that disconnection.
It’s easier said than done, I know. Throw out the yelling, throw out the shame, throw out the guilt. Throw out all of that.
The question asked, how do you substitute connection for discipline? If you remember what the word discipline means, it means to teach. And that’s what this opportunity is. It is an opportunity to connect with our children, and to teach them. So, ask yourself, what and how can I teach in this moment?
Taking a Level-headed Approach
A lot of time, with my little ones, I’ll get on my knees, and make sure I’m at their level, so we have eye contact. I make sure that I check in with myself and that I’m at a place where I can offer connection. If I am angry at them and feeling frustrated, and breathing heavily, and just so irate, that’s not a good time for me to create connection and it’s not a good time for me to discipline my child. So before even going to the place of disciplining, first take care of yourself. First, calm yourself down. Splash some water on your face, stick your head in the freezer, have a sip of coffee. Remember that the goal is to teach and you’re the best teacher when you are coming from a place of calm and love.
That discipline, that consequence, may have to wait until a later time, when I’m feeling a little bit better, where I can create that love, and that connection. Because a lot of times, we’re disciplining our children because they did something “wrong.” They made a “bad” choice, right?
So we need to figure out:
What was that about?
Why did they do that?
Is there an unmet need that they have?
Are they not feeling loved?
Are they feeling confused?
Are they feeling hungry or tired?
Is there a lagging skill?
Sometimes it’s just that—that they’re making those bad choices. Or maybe it’s a skill that they don’t have. Maybe they need to be taught how, and maybe they don’t have that flexible thinking that allows them to think about other things, like, “No you don’t get it your way, we’re not going to go to the store that you want to go to today.” We need to create opportunities to teach our kids the skills they need to handle upsets. Discipline is an opportunity to really create connection, even when our children continue to make, as this post said, “bad” choices.
Our job as parents is, first and foremost: take care of ourselves. Make sure we are in a place where we have calmed ourselves enough to allow for connection, to allow for discipline.
Then I want to look at, what is the unmet need? What—even in their rage, even in their bad choice—could be the reason behind why they made that choice? Is there a skill that’s lacking? If there is, how can I teach them that skill?
In conclusion, Connection + Discipline = A Winning Combination. You can still create boundaries and set up expectations. You can still discipline. Tone matters. Intention matters.
You can do all this with connection. Connection matters.
If you want to talk any of these things out, or understand how this all works, I’m happy to offer you a 30-minute consultation call. You can book it on my website. Or you can reach out to me, call me, message me. Please know that I’m here for you. I want to make this an easier journey for you.