Updated: Jul 9
Take a moment to think back to your childhood. For some of us, these memories may be fuzzy. However, many of us clearly remember moments where we got ourselves into trouble and vividly recall the consequences of our actions. I would safely bet for about 80% of us, there was rarely, if ever, a time when our parents applied emotional intelligence into their disciplinary practice.
Let me be clear, this does not mean their or your (if you are a parent) approach isn't with good intent or effective in some way. But, how effective was it long term and can we see its impact in our adults lives today?
Discipline is a touchy subject. Like many touchy subjects, what is considered "right" or "wrong" is very subjective in most cases. However, I will argue that applying emotional intelligence to your parenting and discipline will be more effective in the long run. Here is why:
First, I want to address something. Some may read this article and say "I did XYZ and my child(ren) turned out just fine" or "My parents did XYZ and I turned out just fine." Maybe, but what is your definition of fine? Not getting into "trouble", having a good job, good education, nice family, good manners...? We are living in a world where approximately 90% of us do not have high emotional intelligence. This isn't necessarily our fault since most of us were not taught how to develop and apply these skills. I hope after reading this, you can see a difference.
"SAY YOU'RE SORRY."
I'm sure we are all familiar with this little phrase "Say you're sorry". Although this may seem like a good way to end a quarrel, what does it really teach? It teaches that regardless of what we have done, we should be able to say we are sorry and make everything okay. However, we are not teaching our children to bring that apology from a genuine place. Often, the apology is being forced. What if they aren't sorry?
We can see this echoed into adulthood. Relationships of constant bickering, impulsive outburst, and in some cases abuse, followed by a sorry, only to repeat itself over and over again. Why? "Say you're sorry" translates to "Tell them what they want to hear. Make it better.." Leaving the root cause and feeling unaddressed and left to be suppressed or repressed.
Adding Emotional Intelligence
When addressing a confrontation, it is important to stay neutral, unbiased, and not approach with impatience or impulse. When I say this to most people they respond with "That's not reality" or "I don't have time for all of that" or "That's too hard."
Yes, it isn't common in today's world, and yes it does take time, and yes it will be difficult at first. This is because we aren't use to evaluating and regulating our emotions. It's much easier to react and say sorry than prevent the impulsive reaction to being with.
However, emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned and developed.
Questions to ask yourself and your child:
What happened for you to respond by _____________________?
(notice i didn't say "what did they do to make you__________?" by saying "what did they do to make you", it takes responsibility away from the self.)
How did you feel when they did/said that?
This question allows for awareness of the evoked emotion(s).
What did that feel like? Where in your body did you feel that?
This questions takes it one step further and allows for identify how different emotions manifest in the body. For example: Anger could be described as "I felt tingly, my heart felt like it was going to explode, I couldn't catch my breath, I felt warm or even hot". By understanding how certain emotions feel, we can better address and tend to them.
How do you think they feel about what you did?
Asking your child to observe the effect their response had on the other child promotes empathy. "Look at their frown and tears. What do you think that means?"
"GO TO YOUR ROOM!" "...TIME OUT!"
Time outs are not always a bad thing, if approached with purpose. However, sending your child to their room or placing them in time out without an objective can allow for confusion, and time to stew in their frustration, anger, or sadness. It's much more effective when there is open communication and an objective for time alone. Sending your child to a corner or having them stare at a wall can be shameful. Although that may be your intent so they are "taught a lesson", what are you really teaching them?
Adding Emotional Intelligence
Often times, both parent and child are in a heightened state of emotional arousal. In this state there is a high probability you many say or do something you will regret later.
Knowing this, it is best to express how you feel and for both you and your child to take a "time out" to calm down and collect your thoughts. I personally prefer "self-reflection" or "cool-down zone" over "time out".
For example: " [kid's name] I am feeling upset/angry/disappointed/... about _________________. I think it best for both of us to take a "time out" for 10/15 minutes and think about what happened and how we feel before we decide what to do next about _________________."
In my personal opinion, I do not believe physical punishment is necessary. I was raised in a home where spankings were used mostly as a threat. I can only recall a few times I was ever punished through spanking. The only thing physical punishment taught me was not to do it again for fear of the pain and for some children, it only taught them not to get caught.
Not saying this is true in all cases (I know many parents who were physically disciplined growing up and know that as the only effective form of punishment.) but I feel some parents find physical punishment as an outlet for their frustration. Regardless if it's coming from a place of love or aggression, it does not teach children anything about understanding their emotional outburst.
Adding Emotional Intelligence
Please refer to the questions to ask yourself and your child (above).
What if this doesn't work for your child? Some children are more difficult to "discipline" than others. Some children need more attention, experience intense jealousy, are over/under stimulated and react in outburst; the list goes on. The questions above may not be effective for all children, but it's a good place to start. For children who may need their emotions and reactions "decoded", I would recommend finding a professional who specializes in emotional intelligence. As professionals, we can help you decode your child's reactions and behaviors so you can best communicate and apply effective teaching moments in your discipline strategies.
I could go on for several more pages about discipline styles, social norms, and manners, but since this is a blog, I tried to keep it as short as possible. If you would like to learn more about emotional intelligence and parenting, please contact me at:
Phone: (980) 677-1437