Here are some of my favorite tips from Season 2, Episode 11 “Punishments, Consequences and Time-Outs with Dr. Joshua Sparrow” Executive Director, Brazelton Touchpoints Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, President, Brazelton Touchpoints Foundation, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Separate consequences from punishments. A punishment shuts your child's system down, meaning there is no learning opportunity. A consequence may not be something a child is thrilled to do, but creates a cause and effect feedback loop to learn through experience.
Classic time-outs as a punishment don’t work because young children often can’t handle the feeling that their parents want to sever connection. Furthermore, they don’t change behavior.
We cannot protect our children from the consequences of their actions and expect them to learn.
Pretending to be happy all the time is too much pressure for parents and their kids. We all have a wide range of emotions and we have to learn to cope with, not ignore, them.
At any age, parents can handle behavior challenges by having empathy for a child’s experience, acknowledging their feelings, having fair and just consequences, and most importantly, tolerating their disappointment. Moments of repair deepen the parent-child relationship and provide learning that can be applied to other circumstances.
In regards to spanking and physical punishment, Dr. Josh Sparrow says, “If the child is feeling pain, and feeling threatened, and scared of the person who caused the pain, they are not going to be open to what that person has to say about why there was a problem and how they can learn from it.”
Remember that young babies are too young to be able to calm themselves when they are upset and need our help to do it. This is called co-regulation.
Model that you are calm when they are upset. This can help your infant learn to soothe. When in doubt, breathe.
Have appropriate expectations. Children under 2 years of age lack a lot of the skills required to be able to control their behavior and manage their emotions.
When infants are upset, they can usually be easily distracted. You can often just replace the thing that is upsetting them, or that which you want to take away from them, with something else. “I know you like to play with that, but it isn’t safe. You can have this instead.” When this isn’t possible, acknowledge their feelings before quickly moving their attention to something else.
Think about discipline as a way to teach your child how you want them to behave rather than punish them. Be a good role model, talk about what you want them TO do instead of what not to do, and give attention to the behaviors you like!
Kids can’t hear you when they are screaming or crying, and first need physical soothing and space to calm down. Offer them an initial empathic response, and then discuss details later after they are regulated. State your intention, “I’m here to help it go better next time.”
Time-outs can be re-branded as "body pauses" to give a child and parent an opportunity to calm down and settle. They should not be used as a punishment, rather as a strategy to help your child (and you) learn how to self-regulate through the pause.
Tips for giving a "body pause" to a toddler: #1) Don’t talk or say too much. If they are worked up, you need to reduce stimulation, not add to it. #2) Work on calming down together. Take a deep breath and model calm. #3) Make physical contact if you can. #4) Use your voice. “This is so hard.” Remember the magic is in the music, not the words.
Try to develop a comfy corner to help your child calm their bodies with your support. Have them pick out soft furniture like a bean bag, some books or stuffed animals, maybe even some music. Let them build it! Having a safe place to go to when they feel out of control can help your child practice the skill of self-regulation.
Later, when you’re calm, have a conversation: #1) Don’t make a judgment on who your child is, but what they did. #2) Use your voice to convey, "I will help you with this even if I may be upset about what happened." #3) Think about promoting understanding of others, adaptability and resilience, not punishment or shame. #4) State what happened, but also shed light on your child's reasoning. “I know you knew that that could happen, but it was so tempting and so hard not to touch.” #5) Talk about what can be done differently next time and come up with new solutions together.
No matter what approaches you take to help guide your toddlers behavior, remember that they won’t work the first time. They require consistency, repetition and patience. Try to remember that it’s not that your child is trying to be difficult, it’s that they are new here and in the process of learning. That takes years, not moments!
Help your child learn the genuine power of an apology by apologizing yourself when you need to. Try something like, “When you did this, I got really upset and I yelled at you. I’m sorry. That must have felt scary. I know yelling doesn’t help and in the future I will try not to yell.”
Though there are many different types of challenges, one really common one is wanting something so badly that just can’t be. Kids this age may tell a lie, cheat in a game or take something they really want. #1) Understand where your child is developmentally. This behavior shows they can’t handle the reality of the situation or disappointment. #2) Connect empathetically. “I can see how much you wanted that and how hard it was to let it go.” #3) Give or allow a natural consequence. Make it right (return it, apologize, talk about how it made others feel). #4) Connect to future actions. “Will kids want to play with you if you play like this?”
Take a minute to recognize the complexity of being an adolescent. So much going on, intense self-consciousness, awareness of self, body development, outside expectations and intense sexual drive (for teens).
Figure out how to help your child feel held and connected while respecting their independence and need for a larger circle of influence.
Sometimes we all back ourselves into a corner where we want to change course. In those cases, have enough time and enough calm before you change direction with your child. Find a support system with other adults raising teenagers.
When you make an apology for losing your cool, try something like, “I thought about what happened and what I said or did and I feel badly about it. I think that I could have tried and done it differently and that’s what I am going to try and do from now on.” Focus on modeling the importance of humility and self-reflection, and rest assured that this will not undermine your authority.
Show you care. #1) Stay up until they get home, pay attention to their moods and behaviors, get to know their friends' parents and surround them with a community of support. #2) Only pick consequences you can enforce. Make them just and fair. #3) Repair after a clash. Avoid withdrawing or giving the silent treatment. Repairs deepen the relationship you have with your child. #4) Include your adolescent in the plans. Come up with what feels reasonable together.
I look forward to continuing the conversation. Leave a comment, send me an email or reach out on Instagram.
Thanks for being a part of Raising Good Humans. We are in this together.