Rethinking Discipline. What’s the Point of Consequences? (It might not be what you think.)

Traditionally, we’ve responded to big behaviour in ways that physically or emotionally separate children from us, their important adults. This might look like time out, thinking chair, thinking square, consequences that don’t make sense, withdrawing our affection, punishment, shouty voices, or shame.

Traditional discipline seems to work but not the way we think it does, and not the way we want it to. 

But traditional discipline does work … doesn’t it?

If you put a child in time out, you’ll get a quiet child back. For decades all the research showed this to be true. But we’ve made a mistake.

We’ve been confusing quiet children for calm children.

The problem with this is that unless the brain feels truly safe and the body is truly calm, no learning can happen. We lose access to the part of the brain we need to be able to teach them – the ‘thinking brain’. 

Big behaviour will ease when we separate a child from us, because young people will do anything to restore proximity to their important adult. The scariest thing for any young one (any mammal.- we’re mammals) is to be separated from their adults. This is instinctive.

The problem with traditional discipline.

Any sense of an adult being disappointed, disconnected, or angry will drive a young brain into bigger threat and drive that child to restore the proximity, BUT it inhibits learning, does nothing to teach a better way, teaches them to stay away from us when things get messy, and compromises the attachment relationship. We can’t lead them if they aren’t attached. 

We all have an instinctive need to stay relationally safe. This means feeling free from rejection, shame, humiliation. Children also have an instinctive need to stay close and connected to their adults. This doesn’t mean they’ll always do things that ensure the connection, but preserving the connection isn’t their job, it’s ours. Children don’t have the resources or the skills to prioritise relationships over behaviour. They’ll want to, but they can’t. That’s okay, because that’s what we’re there for.

Traditional discipline rejects and judges the child, rather than the behaviour. What we’re teaching them is, ‘When things feel big, or when things get messy, don’t come to me because you’ll only feel okay with me when you’re being ‘convenient’.’

We tell them from when they’re so little that we can handle anything, we’ll love them through anything, and we can be there for them through anything. Big feelings and big behaviour count as their ‘anything’.

What’s your intention with consequences?

The point of any ‘discipline’ is to teach, not to punish. (‘Disciple’ means student, follower, learner.) It’s about restoration and repair, not ‘feeling bad so they do better.’

Children don’t learn through punishment. They comply through punishment, but the mechanism is control and fear – any consequence that draws on physical or emotional separation is working through fear.

The problem with this is that the goal becomes avoiding us when things go wrong, rather than seeking us out. We can’t influence them if we’ve taught them to keep their messes hidden from us.

We can’t guide our kiddos if they aren’t open to us, and they won’t be open to us if they are scared of what we will do.

So what do we do instead?

None of this means kids get a free pass on big behaviour. A lack of boundaries will also feel unsafe.

The solution isn’t to take away the boundary. It’s to add warmth to the boundary. Hold them close, reject their behaviour. Love and leadershipboundaries with warmth. Young people need both. One without the other will feel unsafe. Boundaries without warmth feels frightening. Warmth without boundaries feels like a free-fall. It means rather than leading through fear and shame, we lead through connection, conversation and education.

This makes it more likely that they will turn toward us instead of away from us. It opens the way for us to guide, lead, teach. It makes it safe for them to turn and face what’s happened so they can learn what they might do differently next time. This doesn’t mean they’ll be able to do differently of course. Learning how to do hard things takes time and loads of experience.

So what does love and leadership look like?

Rather than, ‘How do I scare them out of bad behaviour?’ try, ‘How do I help them to do better next time?’ If the point of discipline is to teach a better way, our children can only hear us when they feel connected to us.

THE FIX: Make it safe to turn and face.

You’re not in trouble. Let’s talk about what’s happened so we can understand it better.’

THE FIX: Separate them from their behaviour.

You’re such a great kid. I know you know this isn’t okay. How can we put it right? Do need my help with that?’ 

There might still be consequences, but these have to be about repair and restoration and connected to the initial behaviour. This will open the way for them to feel the good in them, and when kids feel good, they do good.

Is the way you respond to their messy decisions or behaviour more likely to drive them away from you in critical times or towards you? Let it be towards you.

The ‘consequence’ for big behaviour shouldn’t be punishment to make them feel bad, but the repair of any damage so they can feel the good in who they are. The conversation with you is critical for them to turn and face their behaviour, learn, and explore what to do differently next time. This will always be easier when they feel you loving them, and embracing who they are, even when you reject what they do.

And if we get shouty? What then?

Of course, we also won’t always be able to respond in ways that preserve the connection – we’re human too. Sometimes we’ll shout, or say things we wish we didn’t. When this happens, what’s important is repairing the relationship and restoring the connection as soon as we can. This might sound something like:

‘I’m really sorry I yelled. That wasn’t okay. That must have been really confusing for you – me yelling at you to stop yelling. I’m going to work on that. I’ve taken some breaths and I’ve done what I needed to do to help myself feel calm. I’d really like to hear what you were trying to tell me.’

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our newsletter

We would love you to follow us on Social Media to stay up to date with the latest Hey Sigmund news and upcoming events.

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

The need to feel connected to, and seen by our people is instinctive. 

THE FIX: Add in micro-connections to let them feel you seeing them, loving them, connecting with them, enjoying them:

‘I love being your mum.’
‘I love being your dad.’
‘I missed you today.’
‘I can’t wait to hang out with you at bedtime 
and read a story together.’

Or smiling at them, playing with them, 
sharing something funny, noticing something about them, ‘remembering when...’ with them.

And our adult loves need the same, as we need the same from them.♥️
Our kids need the same thing we do: to feel safe and loved through all feelings not just the convenient ones.

Gosh it’s hard though. I’ve never lost my (thinking) mind as much at anyone as I have with the people I love most in this world.

We’re human, not bricks, and even though we’re parents we still feel it big sometimes. Sometimes these feelings make it hard for us to be the people we want to be for our loves.

That’s the truth of it, and that’s the duality of being a parent. We love and we fury. We want to connect and we want to pull away. We hold it all together and sometimes we can’t.

None of this is about perfection. It’s about being human, and the best humans feel, argue, fight, reconnect, own our ‘stuff’. We keep working on growing and being more of our everythingness, just in kinder ways.

If we get it wrong, which we will, that’s okay. What’s important is the repair - as soon as we can and not selling it as their fault. Our reaction is our responsibility, not theirs. This might sound like, ‘I’m really sorry I yelled. You didn’t deserve that. I really want to hear what you have to say. Can we try again?’

Of course, none of this means ‘no boundaries’. What it means is adding warmth to the boundary. One without the other will feel unsafe - for them, us, and others.

This means making sure that we’ve claimed responsibility- the ability to respond to what’s happening. It doesn’t mean blame. It means recognising that when a young person is feeling big, they don’t have the resources to lead out of the turmoil, so we have to lead them out - not push them out.

Rather than focusing on what we want them to do, shift the focus to what we can do to bring felt safety and calm back into the space.

THEN when they’re calm talk about what’s happened, the repair, and what to do next time.

Discipline means ‘to teach’, not to punish. They will learn best when they are connected to you. Maybe there is a need for consequences, but these must be about repair and restoration. Punishment is pointless, harmful, and outdated.

Hold the boundary, add warmth. Don’t ask them to do WHEN they can’t do. Wait until they can hear you and work on what’s needed. There’s no hurry.♥️
Recently I chatted with @rebeccasparrow72 , host of ABC Listen’s brilliant podcast, ‘Parental as Anything: Teens’. I loved this chat. Bec asked all the questions that let us crack the topic right open. Our conversation was in response to a listener’s question, that I expect will be familiar to many parents in many homes. Have a listen here:
School refusal is escalating. Something that’s troubling me is the use of the word ‘school can’t’ when talking about kids.

Stay with me.

First, let’s be clear: school refusal isn’t about won’t. It’s about can’t. Not truly can’t but felt can’t. It’s about anxiety making school feel so unsafe for a child, avoidance feels like the only option.

Here’s the problem. Language is powerful, and when we put ‘can’t’ onto a child, it tells a deficiency story about the child.

But school refusal isn’t about the child.
It’s about the environment not feeling safe enough right now, or separation from a parent not feeling safe enough right now. The ‘can’t’ isn’t about the child. It’s about an environment that can’t support the need for felt safety - yet.

This can happen in even the most loving, supportive schools. All schools are full of anxiety triggers. They need to be because anything new, hard, brave, growthful will always come with potential threats - maybe failure, judgement, shame. Even if these are so unlikely, the brain won’t care. All it will read is ‘danger’.

Of course sometimes school actually isn’t safe. Maybe peer relationships are tricky. Maybe teachers are shouty and still using outdated ways to manage behaviour. Maybe sensory needs aren’t met.

Most of the time though it’s not actual threat but ’felt threat’.

The deficiency isn’t with the child. It’s with the environment. The question isn’t how do we get rid of their anxiety. It’s how do we make the environment feel safe enough so they can feel supported enough to handle the discomfort of their anxiety.

We can throw all the resources we want at the child, but:

- if the parent doesn’t believe the child is safe enough, cared for enough, capable enough; or

- if school can’t provide enough felt safety for the child (sensory accommodations, safe peer relationships, at least one predictable adult the child feels safe with and cared for by),

that child will not feel safe enough.

To help kids feel safe and happy at school, we have to recognise that it’s the environment that needs changing, not the child. This doesn’t mean the environment is wrong. It’s about making it feel more right for this child.♥️
Such a beautiful 60 second wrap of my night with parents and carers in Hastings, New Zealand talking about building courage and resilience in young people. Because that’s how courage happens - it builds, little bit by little bit, and never feeling like ‘brave’ but as anxiety. Thank you @healhealthandwellbeing for bringing us together happen.♥️


Original post by @healhealthandwellbeing:
🌟 Thank You for Your Support! 🌟

A huge thank you to everyone who joined us for the "Building Courage and Resilience" talk with the amazing  Karen Young - Hey Sigmund. Your support for Heal, our new charity focused on community health and wellbeing, means the world to us!

It was incredible to see so many of you come together while at the same time being able to support this cause and help us build a stronger, more resilient community.

A special shoutout to Anna Catley from Anna Cudby Videography for creating some fantastic footage Your work has captured the essence of this event perfectly ! To the team Toitoi - Hawke's Bay Arts & Events Centre thank you for always making things so easy ❤️ 

Follow @healhealthandwellbeing for updates and news of events. Much more to come!

#Heal #CommunityHealth #CourageAndResilience #KarenYoung #ThankYou

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This