Attach, Then Discipline

I still remember a discipline problem from twenty years ago, because it was such a disaster. I was in Las Vegas, and we were spending the week at my In-laws. They had a new pool and we were there to play with cousins and enjoy the sun and water together as an extended family. In the first few minutes in the pool, the oldest grandson who was twelve, did something obnoxious and his mother shouted, “That’s it! No more pool for the whole week!”

I couldn’t believe it! How was she going to enforce that? She would have to monitor her son all week to follow through on that punishment. How was he going to entertain himself while all of his cousins were in the pool?

This is how we make parenting hard.

In Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, Dr. Mate talks about this same scenario with the same age child, his son. After his son hit his daughter with a floating noodle in their pool, Dr. Mate said the most effective way to discipline his son was to lean on his attachment to him. He brought his son close and put his arm around him, kneeling down in order to do so. Dr. Mate looked him deeply in the eyes to show his warmth and affection, and said, ” I love you having fun in the pool. It’s the reason we built it, so you and your sisters could play together and have fun. Are you having fun?” He paused and waited for him to nod his head. “Can you see how hitting your sister is making it not fun for her?” Another pause. ” I would love you to be able to stay in the pool if you can stop hitting and just play and enjoy yourself. Don’t you want to stay in the pool?” Another nod yes. ” Good. Because I want you to be able to stay and have fun. ”

What a better way to parent–disciplining by reminding our children how much we love them. Wow! First we re-establish our love and connection to them by getting close and down at their level. Then, we talk them through their behavior and remind them that we want them to be happy. Finally, setting a limit, ” I want you to be able to stay and have fun,” lets them know that more hitting means they can’t stay, and then following through by inviting them in a kind way to exit the pool, if needed.

What a difference in the two scenarios! I wish I had known about this way of disciplining, and I have started using it on my grandchildren. It works! It is a mindful, loving exercise, but the more we do it, it will become more instinctive and natural.

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