If you are a parent of young children or teens, you have probably heard about the standard techniques in exercising discipline with children. Primarily to sternly address the child about the unwanted behavior and follow through with consequences.
These techniques are effective, however most parents who report using these techniques report little to no success. As a matter of fact, it appears that the more difficult and temperamental the child is, the less successful the parent will be at redirecting the child.
The reason for this disparity less in the parent’s ability to be at peace with the situation. I have witnessed parents during sessions, execute parenting redirecting techniques with frustration written on their faces.
Upset feelings parents experience when disciplining their children could be frustration, anger, anxiety and sometimes confusion. Regardless, these are feelings that the child easily reads into, regardless of the words of reason coming from the parent. Children are primal beings, and thus, the most important communication they pay attention to is the mood of the communicator. A parent who is upset, regardless of how reasonable their words are, is going to trigger upset feelings in his or her child. This will place the child in a state of fight or flight, leading the child to engage in defensive behaviors. Some children may choose to lash out in fear, while most will resort to shutting down.
Consider this example, John and Peter are siblings, John was playing a video game, when Peter walked in and asked to pay with him. When John refused, Peter became upset and pulled the cord for John's controller, thereby disrupting John's game. John then became engaged, got up and punched Peter In his gut. Subsequently, John found himself receiving a talking to and a consequence from his mother. This upset John, because he felt that Peter's consequence and taking to was less severe that his. So, John became enraged and threw a tantrum. This led his mother to become even more upset as she addressed his tantrum. From John's perspective, every time he detected his mother's frustration and towards him, he became even more convinced that she favored Peter over him, and dealt with his feelings by throwing a bigger tantrum. This back and forth between mother and child continued until John became exhausted and became silent, much to the relief of his mother.
In the example given, John's mother said and did all the right things, however she was frustrated, and her upset feelings with John was all John could hear and see. From his perspective, John believed that his mother was being unfair to him, and voicing his protests, while his mother's frustration came from her failed attempts to reason with him.
For parents to get their children to listen to them more, they must bring their feelings under control before engaging with the child.
A parent who is genuinely calm, when addressing misbehavior with children, will experience a higher rate of success in reasoning with the child. This is because, in the absence of raw emotions, the child subconsciously mirrors the parent's calm mood, thereby decreasing activity in the lower brain and increasing activity in the cortex and prefrontal cortex regions. This leads to more clarity of thought with the child.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.