How to Discipline Like a Therapist
The very first thing to keep in mind is that discipline is not something that is done TO a child, but rather something that a parent helps to develop WITHIN a child.
To do this, we need to constantly work at teaching our children to learn to understand the difference between right and wrong, or good and bad choices, while at the same time helping them to develop their own conviction and motivation as they grow into adults. Our goal should be to help them reach a point where they actually WANT to make the right choices and believe that they have the moral fibre and the willpower to do just that.
Step 1: Teach your child about acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. What is most crucial here is to diligently and patiently use positive and negative consequences to “condition” your child to associate certain behaviours with pleasant or unpleasant consequences.
Step 2: Teach your child to deal with the negative emotions that come with realising that he’s made a mistake. For many parents, discipline begins and ends at Step 1. A therapist, on the other hand, understands that a parent’s job is not finished before he has helped his child to deal with the emotions that go along with the process of being disciplined.
Keep the following 5 steps in mind:
Mention the seriousness of the situation. Your child’s behaviour was unacceptable and it is good for him to spend some time thinking about how his behaviour impacted other people negatively. Say, for example, “Screaming and punching is unacceptable behaviour and that kind of behaviour is hurtful. It made me feel really bad when you did that.” (Note that you’re addressing the behaviour and the bad choice that your child has made and that you’re not labelling him as a bad person.)
Acknowledge what he is feeling at the moment. “It looks as if you’re feeling sorry/angry about what happened. Am I right?”
Put his behaviour into perspective. “Remember, everyone makes bad choices from time to time, it doesn’t make you a bad person, I know your heart.”
Suggest what he can do to make himself feel better. “Now, if you say sorry, we can hug and both of us will feel a lot better.”
Lastly, help your child to move on. Help him to think about what he can do differently from now on to avoid a similar situation in the future. Say, “Next time, remember to use your words to let me know when you are angry. Being angry is okay, but we do not show it by screaming and punching.”
According to Prof. Mark Leary from Duke University in North Carolina, this kind of guidance from a parent helps a child to grow into an adult that can look his mistakes in the eye, fix what can be fixed, learn from what happened and then move on.
In his words, “People who are self-compassionate often have more equanimity, are better liked, work harder and have higher standards than people who are critical of themselves.”
“Parents who know better…do better.”