A common parenting struggle is figuring out how to effectively help children when they misbehave or take unnecessary risks that may be harmful to themselves or others. Moreover, parents feel as though they cannot reason with their childen when they act out of control and emotionally unregulated. In those moments, parents may find their role quite scary because they are forced to ask some very hard-to-answer parenting questions.
Effective discipline: what’s a parent to do?
Often, because parents do not know exactly what to do, they immediately think they might be really bad parents. But the thought usually just begins there…then spirals.
Coupled with this strong sense of inadequacy, parents may also feel anger, anxiety, fear and frustration. Unchecked, those initial feelings can intensify until parents move to a brain state of helplessness and powerlessness—they don’t know where to turn or what to do.
Parents can then second-guess themselves
Parents can easily second-guess themselves by asking every “what if…” question that comes to mind. Further, this conjecturing (and accompanying feelings) can lead parents to remember how they were parented which, in turn, may elicit reliving some extremely difficult moments from their own childhood. Or, parents may wonder why they can’t discipline as their mother and father did.
Often, the more inadequate parents feel, the worse all of these feelings roil until parents are in such a bad brain state they declare that they cannot continue being parents.
I have heard parents whose utter frustration or anger caused them to issue all kinds of ultimatums that their children cannot begin to understand. During these situations, all children recognize is their parents are intensely angry and need to be avoided.
Obviously, this is not a good sequence of events for parents, children or teenagers.
These angry situations often escalate into unhealthy and destructive outcomes. It is why, for parents and children, catching key moments before they escalate is essential to effective discipline.
If we can deal with the times when there is a need to correct misbehavior or avert a problem, then maybe we can use these moments as healthy parent-child growth steps.
There are lots of reasons young children misbehave.
Children may act out if they experience any number of emotions: lack of patience, fatigue, hunger, desire to assert independence, confusion, disappointment, fear or anxiety. Perhaps they may have been rewarded for acting out in the past by receiving attention or what they wanted. Sadly, when less than optimal expectations have been granted, new ones are more difficult to establish.
Too, children may be just simply going through some developmental disequilibrium which they or you may not understand. However, it is necessary to recognize whatever is going on in a child’s private world is usually quite different from what a parent typically perceives.
In fact, it is important to ask some penetrating questions when parents are confronted with difficult situations.
Whether internal or external, usually there is little that happens that doesn’t have a reason. When things reach the point of mounting negative emotions, it is important for parents to become extremely observational. This means parents will make every effort to back away from the situation and attempt to assess what is going on with their child. Sometimes, it may mean that both parent and child take a time out.
- Parents may attempt to discern and understand brain states and/or developmental stages of their child.
- Parents may learn more about the temperament of their child.
- Parents may carefully listen and observe to better judge why their children are doing the things they are doing.
Taking a few moments to simply ask the right questions, evaluate what is really going on and then strategizing as to how to deal with this situation can make a huge difference between a situation that escalates and one that can be explored and resolved.
Effective discipline for parents is very hard work and can be a new adventure in patience. However, asking the right questions during a calm brain state, to reach better conclusions, can help us become parents who are better attuned and aware of the needs of our children. That is the beginning of good parental discipline.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network