It was lunch recess and a small handful of us had lingered inside after eating our lunch. Somehow we got distracted and started a game of tag. We were only six and had forgotten that we should be outside.
Our teacher came in and she was furious to find us there. She responded harshly. We were made to stand in front of the class in disgrace. Then one by one we had our upturned palms slapped hard with a ruler. It has been 50 years and yet this scene is etched into my memory.
I was last in line to be punished and by the time the teacher turned to me I had made a decision. I would look her right in the eye and not cry when my hand was whipped.
In that moment of punishment something happened to me. I was the kind of kid that worked really hard to please, but in an instant my soft heart turned as hard as stone towards my teacher.
My relationship with her was damaged. As far as I was concerned she couldn't be trusted.
I do not remember anything she taught me that year. I only remember how that teacher treated me. I don't remember her name, but I certainly recall my feelings towards her.
Put yourself in the shoes of a six-year-old child learning how to behave in school. What would motivate you to do better the next time?
1. Being forced to stand in front of your class to be shamed and subjected to physical punishment.
2. A gentle reminder of the rules and a caution of possible consequences the next time you forgot.
Which approach would build connection and relationship?
The WAY we discipline our children has far reaching effects
There is a fine line between helpful guidance and a response that damages relationship. If we cross that line too many times we will hurt our children. They will throw up their defenses. Their hearts will harden towards us. Sometimes we can even break their spirit.
I've worked with children and young people for 40 years. I have seen firsthand what happens when a child's spirit is broken. I have also seen children's hearts harden towards their parents. It is a really sad thing to witness.
I want to be clear. I'm not saying that we shouldn't guide or instruct our children. What I really want us to think about HOW we do it.
What I have learned about discipline
Shame brings fear, BUT encouragement builds up confidence.
Yelling silences, BUT listening invites real communication.
Blame wounds deeply, BUT grace brings healing.
Criticism discourages, BUT acceptance wins trust.
Harshness hardens hearts, BUT gentleness softens them.
Unconditional love ALWAYS wins.
Let's simplify our parenting approach
Frustrated because your daughter comes home and dumps her bag and shoes right in front of the door?
Fed up with nagging your reluctant children to get up in the morning?
Tired that your son seems to think washing is optional?
Yes we need to address these (and many other) issues, but before we do anything let's make a vow to choose relationship first. We CAN offer guidance in ways that builds up our children's spirit.
How to discipline a child without hardening their heart
Let's focus on our children's efforts RATHER than the outcome. Celebrate those efforts!
Look for our children's strengths and comment on them often.
Stop overreacting to kid mishaps and minor incidents. Accidents and mistakes happen, but they are not the end of the world.
Love them regardless of what they do or don't do.
Use this genius approach when dealing with a pouting child and conflict.
Save our guidance for things that are dangerous or life changing, (rather than commenting on every single thing our children do wrong).
Resist the urge to compare our children to others; they will develop at their own time and pace. They will also do things their own way.
Try to speak at least three times as many positive words than negative ones. EVERY DAY!
Demonstrate by our responses that failure is not the end of the world. We can always try again tomorrow.
Acknowledge our own mistakes and work to make amends when we've done something wrong.
Let them to take responsibility for their own lives and decisions.
Help them find tools (such as check lists and timers) that empower them to own their lives.
Allow them to suffer the natural consequences of being late (or not getting things done). Then, discuss strategies to avoid making the same mistake.
Every child needs guidance and instruction as they grow
It is often one of the hardest parts of parenting.
We can nurture a child's heart and discipline them at the same time. I have seen it happen and it is wonderful.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Rediscovered Families. It has been republished here with permission.