Tools for Discipline: Connection
In our family we have made a committment to do our best to parent in a peaceful way. We want to provide our children with a nurturing home, with positive relationships, and with unconditional love. We want our children to feel deeply loved and connected because it's hard to think of anything that matters more.
When I think about peaceful parenting, I feel that the most important element is connection. Your connection to your child is the most important thing in the world to her. It's what allows her to feel safe and secure so that she can free up her energy for learning and exploring. Your connection to your child can't be seen, but it is her home nonetheless.
People are complicated social animals, and much of the learning we have to do in life (not just childhood) is around relationships. Our earliest relationships set down patterns that will repeat themselves later on. It is in your relationship with your child that you have your most lasting impact. It sets the tone of his life, his view of himself. It's his first arena (along with sibling relationships) for learning social skills and traces of your interactions now will show up later in his personality and his marriage. He will unconsciously imitate you later on when he has his own children.
Your connection to your child is a powerful tool, and I suggest that you wield it with care and intention. If it is broken, fix it! Re-connection is a tremendously valuable experience. Connecting isn't all or nothing; it isn't always easy. Making it your priority will have a lasting positive impact.
When you think about discipline, focus on connection first. A child with a strong connection to her parents is easier to parent. She's calmer, more cooperative, easier to influence. She is more likely to share her thoughts with you, rely on your judgement, and look to you for an example of how to be in the world (children imitate unconsciously until about age 9; I'm referring to the conscious imitation of an older child). A child who doesn't feel connected can be very hard to parent because he is hard to influence. That's the situation in which parents are most likely to use harsh punishments, to judge the child as having negative characteristics, to depend on threats, rewards, and bribes in order to get cooperation. Instead of going down that road, try winning your child's heart first.
Connection is your number one tool for discipline, and connection is what makes peaceful parenting possible (and probably why you strive for peaceful parenting in the first place!).
Here are some ways to connect:
snuggle up and read stories
read aloud to them even when they learn to read themselves
leave time for connection in your morning and bedtime routines
sit down for meals together
put the computer away (and tv off) for most of your kids' awake time
invite them to join you in your cooking, housework or creative activities and make them accessible
spend plenty of time at home together
limit out-of-the-house structured activities, car trips and errands, and try not to rush around
tell stories and sing songs
use rhythm to emphasize connection as a priority
figure out your child's love language and use it
really listen when your child is talking to you
show your child respect and use your good manners with them
stay with them when they are having a big emotional outburst
go on a date with your child, even if it's just a one-on-one walk or trip to the park
warm smiles and eye contact
have special times when you play with your child and follow his lead
start family traditions around festivals, seasons, and life transitions like losing a tooth
share your passions, do what you love in front of your kids
make time and space for your child's interests and passions
use non-violent communication and problem-solve at family meetings with older children
have your teen's friends over for dinner often
model connection with your partner or spouse
apologize when you mess up
go camping and hiking together
slow down and enjoy living in kid-time