The Best Way To ‘Discipline Without Damage,’ From Toddlers To Teens
Crib Notes summarize all the parenting books you’d read if you weren’t too busy parenting. For great advice in chunks so small a toddler wouldn’t choke on them, go here.
Have you given up on time-outs, behavior charts, and reward schemes to control your children’s behavior? Did you find all of them to be coercive, gimmicky, and incongruous with your kid’s development? Or did you just think, “Wow, this is a time-consuming pain in the ass”?
In Discipline Without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up, Dr. Vanessa Lapointe gives you permission to replace all of those parenting techniques with something a little more touchy-feely. And since nobody has time to feel all the feels about their kid’s behavior, it’s been distilled to its essence, bottled, and delivered to you so you can discreetly enjoy it anywhere. (Just remember to cover it with a paper bag.)
1. Children Have Needs
Lapointe, spends much of the book trying to convince the reader that children are not little adults who are fully in control of their own actions and emotions. The scientific term for that is, “No shit.”
These children, she posits, have needs. She wants you to focus less on your kid’s behavior and more on your own. Do you meet their emotional needs? Do you use imagination, patience, and compassion to create connection and trust with them, and be the special big people (that’s what she calls parents or guardians: “SBPs”) they need? She also wants you to know this is all based on science — a claim she supports with a liberal smattering of footnotes.
What You Can Do With This
Basically, you should use your emotional connection to your kids to figure out what’s causing problematic behaviors and work with them to solve those problem. If you’re having trouble breaking free of traditional attitudes toward disciple, she suggests …
- Rather than focusing on order, focus on “making room for childhood to unfold.”
- “Find ways to let yourself relax” even amidst the chaos of childhood.
- “Ignore the standards of the world” and focus on what your children need. That would be, in no particular order: You, your compassion, your presence, your understanding, to feel them, and to protect them.
2. It’s Just a Phase (Seriously)
Trying to be the law and order parent (which is different from Chris Meloni, who is a Law & Order parent) often means fighting against the natural stages of your kid’s psychological and emotional development. When that happens, there’s a lot of law, but usually no order. Accept where your kids are on the emotional growth chart. You have demands and their brains might not yet have the capacity to meet them. You monster.
- 2-to-3-year-olds: Impulse control is impossible, and meltdowns, screaming, and tantrums are normal. They have little individuation and see themselves in terms of being “created by their big people.” They have newfound independence (i.e., they say “no” a lot).
- 3-to-4-year-olds: The ability to regulate their frustration and upset increases, but they still need a lot of help doing so from their SBPs. They’re into testing limits and exploring; more into their own preferences and wants. They can be aggressive, but increased verbal ability should mitigate this.
- 5-to-7-year-olds: Getting more independent; they see themselves as not just a creation of their parents. Getting better at regulating themselves, but will still occasionally melt down. They can hold 2 or more seemingly contradictory thoughts in mind at the same time. It helps with problem solving (“I want that ball, but I will have to jack up little Tommy to get it — and I don’t want to get in trouble”).
- 8-to-10-year-olds: They have their own sense of style, passions, interests, and terrible taste in music. They overstep boundaries and need “supervision or guidance around that.” They’re able to regulate but still prone to occasional outbursts or meltdowns.
- 11-to-12-year-olds: They have strong opinions and want to take stands and push boundaries. They love to “discuss” things — like their opinions about the rules. Their urge to individuate through ill-considered self-expression may seem like purposeful rebelliousness. Like a navel ring.
- 13-to-17-year-olds: Like 11-12 year olds, but moodier, more door-slammy. Despite their adult appearances and claims of adulthood, they are still kids and still need their SBPs.
What You Can Do With This
- Adjust your expectations to your kids’ developmental stage. It’s not you using the wrong words or techniques — it’s just that you “shall serve no fries before their time.”
3. How Damage-Free Discipline Works On The Ground
If your knee-jerk reactions and frustration isn’t working, you could do worse than to try this approach. You can also get more advice in this vein from Dr. Laura Markham, who preaches a similar “do no harm,” gospel of dealing with kids who are just acting their age.
What You Can Do With This
- Respond With Connection: When a child is acting out, instead of focusing on the behavior, focus on the child’s feelings. Key phrases to use: “You look like you are having a hard time,” “I will help you. Come with me and we will figure this out.”
- Stay Low: The more upset the kid is, the calmer you need to be — but simultaneously exude confidence and concern.
- Drop A Flag: Instead of dressing down a kid while they’re acting out or just wound up, in a calm and nurturing tone, give a brief (5-word max) reminder of what he needs to know at the moment. Save the conversation for a calmer time. Examples of verbal flags: “Gentle hands.” “Kind words.” “That must stop.” Or one that isn’t in the book, “Put down the knife”
- Maintain Firmness With Kindness: Use a “no/I know” approach. For example: “No, you can’t give the cat a haircut/I know you’re disappointed.”
- Give No Explanation: At least not to a kid in the throes of a meltdown. Maintain the boundary and save the chit-chat about why until they’re settled.
- Debrief Once The Dust Settles: Once the kid has accepted the boundary you have established or enforced, calm has prevailed, and you are in a state of alignment (even if it’s a week later), remind them of the incident and its positive resolution. Give them reassurances that you will continue to be there to keep them safe, and subtly draw attention to your connectedness. Resist the urge to chant “S-B-P Rules!”