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Parenting strategies to help you Discipline Your Child Without Bruising their heart. Discover how to look beyond the behaviour and work WITH your children. Add these positive discipline tips and ideas to your parenting toolbox.
I was in disgrace.
Sent to my room I sobbed into my pillow.
It seemed as if I had done something horribly wrong and then lied about it. Now I was paying the price for my disobedience.
My mom had sent me to the village store to pick up a few groceries. The grocer gave me some change, so I joyfully went to the sweet shop to buy some candies. I dropped off the groceries with my Mom and went to my friend’s house to share the candies. A few minutes later my mom appeared and she was angry.
“Did you spend the change?” She demanded angrily
It was only at that point that I realised that I should have brought all the change back. Panic set in, because I was a good girl.
I didn’t want my parents to be angry with me and I couldn’t bear to be in trouble. So I lied. It was only when my mother threatened to go and confront the shopkeeper that I confessed. Then I was really in trouble.
Why would a good girl take money?
The answer is simple. I didn’t actually know it was wrong to spend the money. No it’s not a typo! I truly didn’t realize that the change was not mine to spend.
It might seem obvious to you, but you are an adult. It was not obvious to a 9 year-old child who never fetched groceries before. I didn’t have the experience to figure everything out. So I thought any money left over was mine to spend.
Now I want to make it clear that I have great parents. They did not leave me sobbing for long. Before the end of the day I had been forgiven, hugged, and restored to the family. The incident never came up again. In fact my parents probably don’t even remember it.
But I do. This is one of two sad memories from my childhood and they both involve discipline that bruised my heart.
How to Discipline Your Child Without Bruising Their Heart
So what’s the take away from this?
When your child is disobedient don’t go straight to anger.
Pause for a moment to ask some important questions.
- Has my child had enough experience to understand that his/her behaviour is unacceptable?
- Have I actually talked about this with them, so that they know it is unacceptable?
Don’t answer too quickly, because it is very easy to say yes.
If someone had asked my mom those questions she probably would have answered with a yes.
And she was right. I knew that stealing was wrong. BUT “stealing” is a very BROAD category. I didn’t realise that spending the change was a form of stealing. I simply didn’t have enough experience to make that connection.
It was an unwritten rule and no one had explained it to me.
Being punished for breaking an unwritten rule is devastating.
Your have a choice
You have a choice when your child is disobedient. You can immediately jump to punishment and laying down the law. But that is the kind of response that bruises a child’s heart.
Or you can use the experience to guide, lead, teach, model, and encourage. Ask some question.
- Do they know what they did was wrong?
- Have you actually talked about this before?
- Are you sure they have enough life experience to make the connection?
If the answer is no then it’s time for a calm conversation. You can set some clear boundaries, work with your child and help them to figure out how to make amends if needed.
In my case it would have made all the difference if my mom had gently explained to me that she expected me to bring all the change back. That it was not my money to spend. Then we could have made arrangements for me to pay the money back, from my allowance.
Look beyond the actions
If you feel that your child knew that what they did was wrong you do have to address it. I would encourage you to try and figure out what is behind the actions. What is motivating the behaviour? Children often don’t have the experience, understanding, or the vocabulary to explain what is going on inside.
If something is off in their lives it will often show in their behaviour. Unacceptable behaviour is often a clear signal that something is going on and we can help them figure out what it is.
- Are they tired/hungry/getting sick?
- Do they need some attention from you?
- Has your connection become a little distant?
- Do they need the chance to start over?
- Are your children afraid to tell you the truth? Why?
Once you have figured out what is going you can address the root issues and then you talk about the behaviour. That is how you discipline without crushing your child’s heart and spirit.
Some Helpful Reads
We are the grown ups
I know it can be hard to stop and think about these things in the heat of the moment. It is easy to go straight to anger when our children disobey or misbehave.
But if we want to nurture relationship then we must set aside those initial feelings and focus on what is best for our kids. After all as Parenting With Abandon reminds us we are the grownups in the relationship (brilliant post).
It’s not always easy to be the gentle loving parent when we are tired and upset. But it is worth the effort, because when we choose to discipline our children with love and respect then we all grow. Our relationships with our children will deepen and their hearts will be nurtured rather than bruised
And that’s awesome.