When a child behaves badly, parents have typically sent them to their room in time-out, taken away a favourite toy or told them off. It made sense to punish their behaviour to train them be good; “spare the rod, spoils the child.”
Developmental science has shown us, without a shadow of a doubt, that children that this was a false belief and that children who are deeply connected to their parents are more likely to cooperate. We know that childrens’ behaviour is naturally challenging and part of their growth process. We also know that the maturation process can be slowed down or blocked, and this shows up in the behaviour.
So why is it important for parents to reconsider childrens’ behaviour and their discipline methods as a top priority?
Because parents want their children to mature, to become fully-functioning, confident, resilient, happy, creative people who can independently contribute to society. Parents want their children to take on their values and to learn about the world, perhaps to excel in certain areas and to have loving, successful adult relationships.
The way to achieve these goals is in the context of the child’s relationship with their parents. This context is the emotional bond that ultimately allows a child to grow. The dance of relationship is the growing edge of development….it always has been. Discipline practices have changed but a child’s emotional needs have remained the same…..a deeply connected relationship with their parents.
Childrens’ behaviour is a window into their emotional state. When children behave badly, it is an opportunity for parents to make sense of the child: what’s not working for them, where is their frustration coming from, what support do they need?
How parents react to a child’s behaviour is a window into their own state of being. It is an opportunity to understand themselves better, to respond to their child’s needs instead of reacting, it’s an opportunity to grow up themselves.
When parents react to their child’s behaviour instead of responding to the little, frustrated person underneath, they are sending a message to the child that this part of them is not acceptable. Over time, these repeated messages can stop the child accepting that part of themselves, and set up life-long negative beliefs such as “I’m too much, I’m not loveable, nobody’s listening to me, I’m always messy, I’m so stupid, I’m always late, I’ll never be any good.”
The way forward is to keep behaviour in mind; to be mindful as parents as to the discipline methods used; to think about maintaining the relationship at all costs and to consider spending more time with a challenging child, giving them time-in. It’s about parents knowing themselves better and coming to know their children as they grow into the beautiful beings they all have the potential to become.
By Laura Newman MSc