by Dr. Gail Gross
Remember when your mom scolded you, and right there, in that moment, you promised yourself that you would never do that to your child… and then, you did.
That’s because in everyone’s life, from birth-to-death, there are only two people: mom and dad. And, all of your emotional interactions are based on those early patterns that you learned in your family of origin. Those early patterns formed the crucible for all of your future relationships and became your familiar comfort zone.
As a result, it is important to know yourself, and to be aware of your familiar patterns. For it is those behaviors, that you learned as a child, that are transferred to your style of parenting.
So, how can you break the cycle?
- Pay attention and know yourself.Acknowledge and recognize the parenting patterns you are repeating from your childhood. Then, integrate them back into your own sphere of influence — the self. In that way, you will not be compelled to act reactively, but rather, to override your compulsion or impulse to repeat old patterns and choose a new and more appropriate behavior.
- Never personalize your child’s misbehavior.If you feel a charge in relation to your child’s behavior, then you are projecting your own feelings into that situation. Be clear, so that you can separate fact from fiction — your emotions, from your child’s actions. In that way, your attention will be placed on the incident, where it belongs, rather than your frame of mind.
- Know your child.In my book How to Build your Baby’s Brain, I tell parents about the developmental stages of childhood, so that they can positively affect them. You can only have reasonable expectations from a child that is capable of meeting those developmental markers. For example, a toddler doesn’t have a good sense of space or time and therefore, any punishment lasting more than a few minutes is counter-intuitive. Not only would your toddler not remember his offense, but may become agitated over the impact of a long punishment.
On the other hand, disciplining an adolescent with one week of grounding, but never more, may be beneficial. Punishment and consequences should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, so that your child is taught a new way of behaving, rather than being trained, like a puppy or a horse. Remember: you’re teaching a lesson, not breaking your child’s will.
Further, when disciplining your child, it is important to know his maturation level. Be careful not to be fooled by strong language skills… they don’t necessarily mean maturity. As a parent, you must function as a guide, helping your child traverse the mine fields of socialization. Because your child is a child, your goal is to guide him towards making good choices, good decisions, good behavior, self-discipline, and ultimately, self-management. Use my Empathic Process to invest your child mutually into your discipline model. This can make him your partner and ally, teaching him both empathy and problem-solving.
- Recognize your child’s special needs. One size of parenting does not fit all. If your child has a learning problem, your discipline model should accommodate it. For example, if your child is hyperactive, has problems focusing or staying on point, it is important for you to be the steady hand that monitors him, and brings him back to his work, whether that includes chores around the house, or homework.
- The punishment should always fit the crime.Teaching your child problem-solving is more important than punishing him. My Empathic Process, a model of communication without defense, will give your child a sense of himself, his own ability, and self-power, to work his way through any problem. By teaching your child to communicate his feelings, and investing him in the process of his own discipline and consequences, you help him become self-actualized. In a sense, you are giving him skin in the game and thus, he is more likely to follow your mutual discipline approach.
- Practice and rehearse new behavior to create a new habit.If your child is disciplined too harshly or for an extended period of time, he will forget the cause of his crime, but he will remember, forevermore, his resentment. This can be counter-productive, as you are no longer teaching a new behavior, but rather, creating a new problem.
Moreover, a young child who’s punished too severely, or for too long, may personalize his offense and feel that there is something wrong with him, that he is a “bad boy”; remember, you can’t affect behavior successfully by causing shame or fear. And, be cautious not to do something you can’t take back. For example, never cause your child to miss a special event, either at school or home, as punishment.
In the final analysis, what you want to teach your child is to “know the rules,” and then give him the positive incentives necessary to self-manage and behave appropriately. Positive reinforcement, rewards, and privileges will ultimately teach your child to exhibit good behavior, not because of the fear of punishment, but rather for the intrinsic feeling and value of doing something good for its own sake.
Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., is a nationally recognized family and child development expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times and USA Today. ABC, CBS and KHOU, Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Dr. Gross’ soon-to-be second book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, teaches parents how to enhance a child’s learning potential through various developmental stages. Two additional books are slated to follow, including The Only Way Out Is Through, a Jungian approach to navigating life’s transitions including grieving, and Defining Moments, which recounts the defining moments of celebrity guests as shared with Dr. Gross during interviews on PBS’ “Let’s Talk.” www.drgailgross.com