It was stupid, and thoughtless, and I thought he knew better.
I yell at him. I tell him how angry I am, how disappointed I am. I tell him he is old enough to understand how wrong it is.
He screeches back at me and storms off slamming the door.
I yell through the door that since he can’t be responsible or polite then he doesn’t get to play the Wii for a week!
For the rest of the week he is rude and sullen. He pushes the limits to the extreme, and pushes my buttons even more. Every day there is a new battle and I wonder what other ‘consequences’ I can dish out since the ones I’e already given are obviously not working.
And then I realise.
I have fallen into the vicious cycle of punishment.
Punishment can easily become a vicious cycle.
We punish our kids for making a mistake, which makes them feel bad about themselves and breaks our connection with them…
Which often leads them to feelings of anger and frustration and more acting out and poor choices, which we then have to punish even more…
Which leads to more bad feelings and more disconnection and more acting out…
How do we break the cycle of punishment and disconnection?
You break it when you realise your job as a parent is not to control, but to teach your child.
That doesn’t mean there are no limits, or consequences for their actions, but when your goal shifts from just trying to control your child’s behaviour, to trying to help them become the best person they can be, you begin to look for ways to teach, not to control.
When I shifted my thinking from trying to make sure my children ‘did the right thing’, to trying to make sure my children knew how to do the right thing, everything changed.
I changed the way I thought about discipline.
It stopped being all about punishment and consequences, and started to be more about guiding and encouraging. It stopped being something I had to enforce, and started being something I wanted to teach.
I changed the way I approached behaviour.
I stopped being reactive all the time and started trying to be being proactive. I started asking ‘what is this behaviour trying to tell me?’ I started looking for the cause, rather than just treating the symptom.
When I shifted my thinking from control and punishment, to teaching, I became an encourager and guide, not a referee, and not judge jury and executioner!
I still fall back into my old habits sometimes.
Sometimes I feel pressure from society to have compliant ‘polite’ children, and sometimes things just blow up and all I can think of is an arbitrary punishment. But that is happening less and less. The more I teach them self control the less I need to even think about controlling them.
These days, as my kids grow from babies, into children, and now teenagers, I am hyper aware of how important our connection is, and how little time I have left to teach them the things they need to know. I don’t want to waste that time, or risk that connection, by stepping back into that vicious cycle of punishment that got us no where.
And when I am feeling unsure or when I’ve made a mistake and chosen compliance over connection I always remember this quote by Pam Leo …
“You can not teach children to do better by making them feel worse. When children feel better they behave better.”
My job as a parent is to encourage my children to be the best they can be, not to make them feel bad about themselves.