Disciplining a Kid the Parental-Love Way

Is occasional spanking good for children?

Should I be a ‘free-range’ parent?

If I use consequences, does that mean I am withholding love from my child?

A November Time cover story said parents are over-parenting. I think I am, but what should I do instead?

That’s just a sampling of what you’ve been reading in the media and blogs for the last six months. Never in the history of parenting have parents been so confused and accused. But good news! There’s a refreshing answer to this confustication and accusation.

This answer has been under our collective noses since parenting began: it’s parental love. Rarely is parental love completely developed. It sounds so old-fashioned, we just ignore it. But when parents fully implement their love, kids always turn out happy and respectful. Now, don’t push the delete button. This is not just another crazy-therapist rant. See for yourself. Take a few moments to read the brief summary that follows.

Here’s what I discovered after I brushed the dust off this “old hat” but potentially powerful parental resource I call parental love. And it’s taken forty years and 2500 clients to arrive at these tried-and-tested conclusions that really work.

A kid’s fundamental, life-essential need (equal to feeling the need for food) is to feel and believe “I’m good for who I am on the inside, not my performance” and to avoid “I’m bad.” When this belief is established, you will have a happy, respectful kid. And you will feel good. Parents have the goods to establish a child’s need to believe “I’m good” by consistently focusing on the good at the center of their kid, even during discipline. (Okay, it takes training, but it can be done in a three-week period.) Discipline (teaching and training) is less effective when parents focus on behaviors only. (That’s the normal parenting focus). But doing so puts the parenting cart before the horse. Discipline’s first order of business is to focus on and validate feelings. Here’s the key: validating feelings causes the child to feel he or she is “good” in a parent’s eyes (remember “I’m good” is a child’s life-essential need). Now with “I’m good” established, changing behavior will work better.

That’s an overview of what unleashing your love means. Now let’s dive into a summary of discipline, or, stated another way, teaching and training. And let’s always remember the overriding disciplining principle: firm, consistent, respectful, limit-setting.

Teaching. The teaching part of discipline is to help your kid to acquire two critical chunks of information about living: healthy beliefs and acceptable behaviors. Beliefs are central. They serve as a roadmap and energy source for determining a kid’s behavior. The two fundamental beliefs to teach are “I’m good” and what’s right and wrong (a child’s guilt system). As these beliefs are being established, parents train the child to acquire appropriate behavior. And here are the parental-love guidelines for teaching: use the discussion procedure (see next paragraph), avoid judging, avoid negative comments, be calm, talk no more than 25 percent of the time and during that time ask questions as much as possible, make only one or two points at a time, keep points brief, and acknowledge your mistakes. (I bet you already practice at least two or three of those.)

All parental teaching must start with the kid feeling understood and accepted for his or her point of view. Only then can effective problem-solving occur. This understanding and accepting part is accomplished through the four-step discussion procedure demonstrated below: Listen, Repeat, Agree, and Validate.

“Adam, tell me what happened that caused you to handle your upset by hitting your sister.”

“She came into my room and started playing with my Legos. I told her to stop and she didn’t.” (Listening)

Dad repeats Adam’s comment without giving his points, and then asks, “Did I get it right?” (Repeating)

Dad agrees with one thing, even though he knows Adam’s in Sarah’s room a lot, but he bites his tongue on this one: “I agree. You should be upset about your sister barging into your room.” (Agreeing)

Then Dad validates: “I can see how you’re fed up with your sister coming in unannounced. I would be, too.” (Validating)

Now Dad turns it around and asks Adam to listen and repeat what Dad has said. (He does not ask Adam to do the last two steps, agreeing and validating. These steps are too complex for a preteen.) Listening and repeating takes some practice, but eventually even a three-year-old can learn these two steps. Now Adam and Dad understand each other and are ready for acquiring a new behavior. That’s the training part.

Training. The goal of training is twofold: establish within the child (1) healthy behaviors and (2) the ability to use, at a moment’s notice, the established ways of thinking and believing to choose between right and wrong behavior. A fundamental training task is to train your son or daughter to delay gratification. “I want it my way, now” doesn’t work. Again, remember the fundamental discipline principle: firm, consistent, respectful, limit-setting.

Here’s a summary of must-have training skills:

Always acknowledge the good at the center of your child during all (or at least 90 percent or so) training exercises, especially during boot camp sessions such as “Learn to Drive.”

Always shape training expectations in accordance with your child’s (1) feelings and thoughts (set yours aside temporarily), (2) developmental stage, and (3) unique personality (temperament traits). Special warning: don’t automatically train according to the way you were parented unless it works for your child.

Use the guaranteed-to-work-almost-every-time VT&T training sequence: “V” for validate the feelings causing your child’s behavior, “T” for teach why specific behaviors or beliefs are important (75 percent listening, 25 percent talking-mostly by asking questions), “T” for train/establish healthy behaviors and beliefs within your child. (It helps to have your spouse or a friend cheerlead your efforts: “Give me a V…” Okay, skip it. But encouragement helps.)

Set expectations for 98 percent success when training for a new behavior. Doesn’t it feel good to be successful right away?

Maintain a calm or close-to-calm voice and facial expressions-no meanness either-during all training exercises. (Ninety percent will do if you apologize for the 10 percent “I’m just human” error.) Too much anger, too many times is harmful.

Motivation is the training engine that changes behavior: logical consequences, rewards, deprivations. Special warning: Pain is a destructive motivator; skip the punishment. Post 3 x 5 cards with this message in several locations: The biggest training motivator translated into kid-talk- “I want my mom and dad to accept me no matter what.”

Now you have the basics for what the parental-love version of discipline looks like. Apply these principles in your family and you too will raise a happy, respectful child.

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