Sharpening your parenting skills: Correcting
by Leah Gorham, MAMFC, LPC
Welcome again to the third installment of the Child Abuse Awareness Blog Series. The past few weeks, I’ve been writing about parenting perspectives that can help us maintain our own sanity while meeting the needs of our children – with the ultimate goal of reducing child abuse. As I mentioned in the previous two posts, Dr. Kayrn Purvis utilized the TBRI® (Trust-Based Relational Intervention®) approach with the families she worked with. In the last two posts, we talked about empowering children to thrive in their environment and the importance of connecting with them. As parents, it’s also important to understand the significance of nurturing ourselves through self-care.
As any parent will know, discipline and correcting a child’s poor decisions is a daily challenge. Starting when they are young can help build a foundation for when children turn into teenagers and later into adults. Proactive strategies of teaching children good decision making skills when they are calm can be productive. I have found that I can think and speak more clearly when I am in a calm state of mind. To get there, I need to take deep breaths to refocus myself. While it takes extra time to refocus and calm down, it also keeps me from growing frustrated and having heated arguments in which I could say (or do) something I would later regret. As adults, we need to model this for children.
The goal for correction actually goes back to that of connection (remember from last week). This is a basis for all relationships – we have a deep need to feel connected with one another. I had a minister from my childhood who would always say, “Rules without relationship will lead to rebellion.” If there’s not the foundation of a relationship enabling the child to feel connected, it will be difficult to discipline and correct the poor behavior.
When you’re connected with your child, you can more easily discover the meaning behind the behavior. How many times have you found yourself scratching your head asking yourself, “Why is my child acting this way?” Don’t worry – it happens to all of us. Dr. Dan Siegel, MD (who wrote The Whole Brained-Child with Baylor graduate Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, PhD) encouraged parents to chase the why behind the child’s reactions. The more connected you are with them, the more you notice their habits, patterns, and even struggles.
There are four questions you can ask yourself following their poor behavior. The first one is “What is the behavior really saying?” We sometimes display anger despite underlying emotions of fear, embarrassment, sadness, etc. Poor behavior can often be a way to get the attention of others. As I tell many families, even negative attention is still attention. Could this behavior be correlated to a past traumatic experience that the child needs additional support for instead of just discipline? When we’re connected with our children, we learn what their triggers are and we are able to help them recognize and avoid them if possible. If we can discover the what of their behavior, it can lead to the why.
The second question is “What does my child really need?” Does your child need a healthy snack or glass of water? If the child is crying out for attention, they may need a hug or our good eye contact to help them calm down. Does your child feel unsafe and need reassurance along with calming techniques? Like before, trying to discover what the child needs is important and comes from lots of connectivity.
Another question is “How can I teach my child to get their needs met?” This is an important step because teaching our kids how to get their needs met is vital as we strive to discourage the misbehavior. Utilizing good connection through eye contact shows that we are listening to them. Lowering our tone of voice is helpful because using our angry or loud voice will likely make the situation worse. While slowing down our speech pattern is not usually a problem in Texas, some of us are from areas where fast talking is normal. Kids can struggle with this. By slowing down our speech, we can think more clearly. Doing all of these things can help to diffuse many stressful situations.
The final question to ask ourselves is “When is a good time to teach them this skill while they are calm?” It is often easy to jump to correcting our kids in the heat of the moment, yet this is not always the best time to teach them. In that heated moment, children can understand your anger to be against them personally instead of against their poor choices. Think of a good time when everyone is calm and able to think clearly – this is an ideal opportunity to discuss the behavior. Brainstorm with your child (depending on their developmental level) on the best way to strive to teach skills proactively before they occur or little while after they occur, when feelings of anger and angst have left.
These four questions are great tools for discovering reasons why children are misbehaving. There can also be logical consequences for their actions, too. I am still encouraging parents to appropriately discipline children (because we all need structure), yet understanding the rationale and exploring underlying emotions could help resolve future issues. Consider the child’s developmental ability – is what you’re asking too much for their developmental stage? Sometimes we want to kids to grow up too fast by placing expectations that are too high and unrealistic. On the flip side, setting expectations that are too low isn’t something that helps our children learn and grow. Our main goal of TBRI® is to encourage children to ask for what they want rather than throwing a temper tantrum. It is okay for a child to be disappointed in not getting what they desire. It is okay to verbalize that disappointment in a calm, respectful tone. But is not okay to throw a fit in anger over the disappointment.
The past few weeks, I’ve discussed three concepts (empower, connect, and correct) from TBRI® that help decrease child abuse and increase parent-child relationship. There is much more than can be covered in addition to what we’ve discussed here! If you want more information, feel free to reach out to STARRY (254-399-6552), as we offer free counseling for children and families. We will also be offering a Nurturing Parenting class this summer in the evenings that utilizes some of these principles. If you desire something during the day, MCH Family Outreach is a great resource. (And they love TBRI® as much as we do!) STARRY’s main objective is to nurture children, strengthen families, and restore hope. We strive to decrease child abuse and we hope you will stand with us in bringing hope to the next generation in the Waco area.
Leah Gorham, MAMFC, LPC, is the Team Lead at the STARRY-Waco Counseling office that offers free counseling for children and families. She has been a Kid’s Hope Mentor for the past five years and is currently part of Leadership Waco.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.