Child discipline can be a very tricky subject for parents to approach. As a parent, you might fear disciplining too much, too little, or perhaps in the wrong way or at the wrong time. There are so many factors to disciplining children that it’s not a surprise that parents find it to be a stressful subject!
The point of discipline is not solely to punish your children for bad behavior. Many parents might be asked what discipline is and respond with words like ‘punishment’ or ‘time-out.’ But discipline is also the force that gets you to the gym when you would much rather watch another episode of the series you’re binge watching. It’s doing something you should do rather than the thing you want to do.
Discipline should teach your children self-control and emotional regulation. The long-term goal of discipline is for your child to internalize and understand moral lessons, rather than just following rules blindly. For young children, proper discipline and boundaries set up a clear definition of the world, and their place in it. This can help them feel more secure, and sets the stage for a lifetime of responding positively to discipline.
So, how can you, as a parent, discipline your child properly? Dr. Noelle Cochran, PsyD, answers that question in her course ‘Emotionally Intelligent Discipline.’ In this course, Dr. Cochran explains that emotionally intelligent discipline uses a foundation of teaching emotional awareness and emotional tolerance to help your child learn behavioral direction.
So what is emotional awareness? How can it help you when it comes to discipline? Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize and name one’s emotional state. It also is the understanding that you can feel two (or more) emotions at the same time, and that emotions are temporary and changeable. This ability allows children to understand their emotions, which will lead to them being able to control both their emotions and their actions.
Emotional awareness might seem like an obvious ability, but it’s actually one that children have to learn. It is a really helpful ability for kids to have, especially in discipline situations, because those wild, unrecognized emotions will cause them to behave in unwanted ways. If you can explain to them what they are feeling, they will be able to recognize it the next time it happens, and they will know that the behavior that happens when they are mad, for example, throwing a toy, is not acceptable.
As a parent, there are a few ways you can help your children increase their emotional awareness. These strategies will help your kid better understand their emotions, and will benefit you when it comes to discipline.
- When your child is showing an emotion, whether positive or negative, mirror it back to them. Use facial expressions, tone of voice, body language and other indicators to show them what that emotion looks like. Mirroring this back actually activates neurons in your child’s brain that will help them process the emotion. This is especially useful with very young children. It is important to note that this process only works with kids who are relatively calm. If your kid is in a full-blown temper tantrum, they won’t be able to engage with your actions. Mirroring can help your child learn empathy, as well as better understand how to read other people’s expressions and emotions.
- You can name and validate your child’s feelings. If your kid is mad that you won’t let them eat the dog’s food, you can say ‘Yep, I can see that you are mad because I won’t let you eat Charlie’s dinner.’ It’s important to do this in a non judgemental manner, because you don’t want your kid to think that emotions are bad. Try to use as many varied words as you can in this exercise, so that your kid will learn about the full spectrum of emotions. Are they mad, or frustrated, or irritated, or furious?
- You should model having more than one emotion at a time. Kids need to know that this is normal and happens to everyone. While chatting about an upcoming team sports event, you could say that you are both excited to see your friends but anxious about playing football. Show your child that you can have a full range of emotions, all at the same time, and that’s okay.
- Because young children live absolutely in the moment, they often think that how they are feeling now will be how they will always feel. To help them understand the changeable nature of emotions, talk to them about how they are feeling now versus how they were feeling at a previous moment in time. By doing so, they will learn that feelings will come and go.
When you use these strategies to help your child increase their emotional awareness, you are setting them up for success in many areas, but especially in behavioral direction, a key aspect of emotionally intelligent discipline. Learn about the two other key parts of this practice - emotional tolerance and behavioral direction, by participating in Dr. Cochran's course, 'Emotionally Intelligent Discipline’ and see how these concepts can help you effectively discipline your child and equip them well for life.