Connect Even While Correcting Your Child’s Behavior
I live in a major city where I witness people being curt, mean, and yelling at each other every single day. I also notice sweet, generous people tending to their kids and their lives every single day. There are times when it seems as if no one cares how others are feeling anymore. Each time I hear parents disrespect a child who is only trying to learn, I get sad.
When spouses/partners, parents, kids, or strangers on the street are angry, and no resolution occurs, the injured party walks away feeling isolated and alone. The opportunity for connection is lost. That loss causes people to remain angry and spread their anger from one person or situation to another. It’s the kick-the-dog syndrome. After the year we’ve all had, how can we reconnect again?
One mom said in response to a question posed by another mom, “the [kids] need to know that you are there to support them . . . they don’t believe that when you appear not be listening.” In other words, if you connect to your child before you correct his behavior, your child is much more likely to be willing to listen to you and far less likely to raise the “I’m not listening barrier” to tune you out or to argue with you.
You might be thinking, “Oh no, not another touchy-feely way to parent. I handle my kids the way my parents handled me, and I turned out just fine!” Stop and think about your childhood for a moment. When you were being yelled at and punished, weren’t you desperately trying to tell your parents your side of the story?
Simply asking him why he did something wrong, as you’re yelling and punishing, doesn’t produce the same results. Yelling causes kids to slightly withdraw inward to protect themselves from the onslaught of your intense yelling. That unconscious fight or flight habit causes a child to miss information about the impact of her behavior and the other choices she could have made instead. Teaching requires that he solve the problem with your support, giving him a firsthand experience that inspires him to make better choices next time.
Connecting gives your child a chance to explain how he saw the situation unfold, allowing you to spot the mistakes in his understanding. A tiny change like this can be the key to creating the real parent-child connection you’re looking for.
There are three concepts to keep in mind when connecting and correcting your child: using the words “how,” “what,” and active listening.
1. “How” Questions
Most of us have had someone, at some point in our lives, jump in, and tell us what we should do. Saying things like, “Let me tell you where you went wrong, or “here’s the way I think you should fix this.” We become offended because implied in those statements is a message that expresses you don’t have faith in my ability to fix the problem, so you better jump in and do it for you.
To fix that, begin with a “how” question rather than a “why” question. Ask things like:
“How upset are you?”
“How did her words make you feel?”
“On a scale of 1-10, how mad are you?”
“How do you think you should have handled this?”
“How are you feeling now?”
2. Active Listening
Wikipedia says, “Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to feed-back what they hear . . . [leaving] little room for assumption or interpretation.” Using active listening assures your child that he’s been heard. An example would be: “You said Sally said mean things to you, so you hit her, right?”
3. Correcting using the word “What”
After connecting is the time to correct behavior using the word “What.” To do that, begin sentences with the word “what.”
“What are the rules in our house when you hit a friend?”
“What are you supposed to do instead?”
“What will you be doing now to fix his hurt feelings?”
“What else happens in our house when we hurt someone’s feelings or body?”
It helps if you post a list on your refrigerator of the family’s rules and what happens when the rules aren’t followed (for ideas on how to do that, see below). Posting the new rules allows you to supportively walk your child over to the list as you ask questions that begin with “what.” Asking questions and using natural consequences to repair the damage requires a child to think and learn from his choices.
When you connect and reaffirm with active listening, then use the words “what” and “how” as part of the correction process, it helps fill both parent and child’s needs by steering each of them away from anger. The child feels connected and heard, which further reduces power struggles. And the parent can truly teach the child what she needs to know without relying on reactions and punishment.
When families connect as they correct behavior, they create new habits that naturally show up in the workplace and their daily interactions with others. Hopefully, shifting this in your own family will ripple outward into the community, and the pervasive anger we’re experiencing in society will begin to shift as well.
Looking for mindful ways to teach kids to apologize or how to create global rules that work for years to come? Those ideas are in our #1 mini-course, 10 No-Yelling Methods that Teach and Support While You Remain Calm, and fully explained in #8 & #9.
Want to talk to others who parent like you do? Join us inside Real Talk Parent Lounge on FB.
Sharon Silver is a parenting educator and the founder of Proactive Parenting. NET. She’s also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Transform Behavior into Learning Moments.