Positive Discipline (PD) has gained quite a lot of ground in my town of Asheville, N.C. and I have finally gotten around to learning more about it. I have been blown away by how similar it is to Conscious Discipline (CD), but have noticed some alarming differences.
Using your calm voice, encouraging as opposed to discouraging, using choices, and releasing the desire to control our children and instead empowering them: these are a few of the many tools that are in common between CD and PD.
Something I really love that is new to me from PD is the concept of the Parent and Adult ego, and how much time parents spend in the Parent Ego and nag, remind, correct our children. They suggest spending less time in the parent ego and more time in the adult ego where we can connect, have fun, and meet their need for attention and significance. As a parent I’ve always thought my job is to teach my child, and this approach questions that.
How does one accomplish this while they are the parent and need to teach and train our children? By empowering your children by letting them know what’s expected of them and allowing them to feel the effects of natural consequences when they choose differently. There are lots of ground rules with implementing this strategy, such as letting your children know you are no longer going to remind them to wear a coat to school when it’s cold out. If they forget to grab it, and you don’t remind them, they will experience the natural consequences of forgetting it and be way more likely to remember it next time.
This concept basically eliminates the need to remind and rescue our children. It frees us from nagging and allows us to spend more time connecting. If they forget their lunch box, let them know after you rescue them once that you won’t do it again, and allow them to remember it in the morning. Give them the proper training to know what to do, and let them know after a certain number of reminders that you know they can do this on their own and you trust that they’ll make the best choice. After training your child sufficiently on how to get ready for school, empower them to do it themselves. When getting ready for school in the morning say “When you’ve made your bed, brushed your teeth, gotten dressed and grabbed your book bag you can join us at the table for breakfast.” You told them once, now if they don’t get ready in time for the school bus arrival, let them experience the consequences of not having breakfast. It won’t kill them and it will teach them self accountability.
When a child experiences a “manipulative” tantrum, as PD calls it, and is throwing a fit because you said no to a request, PD suggests to just walk away from them. Similarly during power struggles just walk away and lock yourself in your room if necessary. This is very alarming to me and I hope that parents question this logic when they hear it. It’s especially alarming because it’s lumped in with other amazing advice so it would be easy to trust an “expert” who claims that they know what’s best for children. The goal of this strategy of disengagement is to let the child know that you will not tolerate this behavior. It’s very successful because children quickly get the message that you are not going to interact with them when they employ these strategies and they will absolutely stop the behavior, so it’s equally deceiving and seems like a good idea if it works, right?
My concern with this approach is that when a child is in the brain stem emotional state, (even when it is “manipulative,”) it is a crucial moment for brain development. The child engaged in a power struggle or tantrum of any sort is in the lower centers of their emotional brain state. To walk away in this moment is a loss of an opportunity to create the brain connections children need to move to the higher centers of the brain. One of the questions I’m left with is what are the negative consequences? Do these actions create a catscan of a child who is deprived, who doesn’t feel safe in the world and who questions if anyone is really there to support them? I’m not sure how big of an impact this has on children. I know for myself I really notice who is present for me when the chips are down. If you’re not there when I need you most, especially if you walk away from me, it’s hard to trust you. What we do know from brain research is that children need to feel safe and connected to their parents for healthy brain development, and it’s my guess that the most essential moments that they need your presence is when they are screaming out the loudest.
In my opinion walking away during a tantrum is saying to the child- “You and your feelings of anger and frustration are not appropriate and I am not here for you. My love and affection is only available when you behave in a way I approve of.”
In contrast, we can help our children move to the higher centers of their brains through presence and empathy. This does not mean that I give the child what they want. I empathize with what is alive for the child. This is teaching the child healthy ways to deal with feelings of anger or powerlessness, or the need to be heard and seen.
If my son throws himself on the ground because he wants ice cream and I say “No, not right now,” once I’ve breathed with him and assisted him in getting back into his body, I might empathize and say “Wow, it sounds like ice cream is really important to you. You were really hoping for some ice cream. Use your big voice and try asking me calmly for what you want. You can say- Mom, I really want ice cream now. It’s very important to me.” From there I might say “Sweetheart I hear it’s so important to you to have ice cream. Let’s talk about when we can have ice cream and what flavor you’re thinking about.” Empathy is the balm that heals, and is an essential foundation to healthy brain development.
My suggestion to parents reading some of the awesome PD material that is out there is to explore substituting “empathize” whenever you hear the instructions to “ignore” and see how that feels to you. I do highly recommend PD with the above consideration. I don’t know the origin of this trend but I am sad to see parenting strategies repackaged again and again, making it difficult for families to wade through all of the different parenting advice. I will continue to read and research different strategies and share with you what I discover.