Yesterday I wrote about why I don’t believe sandwich sign parenting will work. The day before I wrote about three levels of thinking and how I believe our parenting needs to move to a level beyond punishment as a motivation. One of the readers asked a great question. He asked, What does this look like in real life practically speaking? I answered that question in my next comment but I think it’s a great question that deserves an answer here. Every time we correct our children should involve a debrief or processing time at some point. It doesn’t have to be immediate but at some point we need to make sure our children understand why we did what we did. A good debrief includes four things. It communicates:

  1. What they did wrong.
  2. What they could have done instead.
  3. Why it matters
  4. That this discipline did not change the amount of love you have for them

So often we think that the kids simply know. We believe that they make the connections on their own. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Regardless, having a processing time helps you and them to consider their actions on a moral level. The more you do this, the more it will “wire” their brain to do it.

What they did wrong.  Ask them if they know what they did wrong. Most of the time they will. Listen to how they verbalize it. Ask them why they did it. Help them look inside and identify their own thoughts and feelings. Use feelings words and thinking words. Instead of saying, “You hit your sister because you were angry!” Say, “I think you hit your sister because you were angry.” Instead of “You didn’t brush your teeth because you're a rebellious human being depraved who needs Jesus!” Say, “I feel like you didn’t brush your teeth because you wanted to play longer before bedtime.” Give them the opportunity to agree or disagree. If they disagree you can go through the first part of the process again. When they agree, you can then instruct them on the idea of rebellion, obedience, authority, good dental hygiene etc.         Avoid name calling. This seems so simple but I see so many parents do it without realizing it. They say things that attack the child and not the action. This usually happens when they are reacting and not being proactive but the scars of those words can last for a long time. The problem is not your child, it is the action or lack of action. Focus on that. Ask yourself if you are modeling the behavior that you don’t want your child to be doing. For instance, when I was younger we actually had house phones. Every adult I knew would tell you that lying was bad. But, if I had a dime for every time I heard an adult tell their child, “If that is for me, tell them I’m not home.” This taught all of us that lying is not always wrong, sometimes, it’s situational.

Help them identify what they could have done differently Be specific here. Get input from them. Help them to be part of the solution. What could they have done differently in the situation? Sometimes, it is as simple as having done what you asked them to do. Maybe they could have asked you for help or they could have asked for a longer time frame to get it done. Maybe they could have done a thousand other things. Help them to identify a few. This is especially helpful when you have a child that is struggling with impulse control. Maybe your five year old is throwing temper tantrums. What else could they do when they are extremely frustrated or angry? What would you like to see them to do? Don’t dismiss their ideas or feelings. Rather work at helping them view their beliefs about those ideas and feelings critically.

Tell them why it matters Why is what they did or didn’t do important? Why was it so important that they would be disciplined for doing or not doing it? What part of their character are you working on developing? How does this help them to be the type of adult you want them to become? This is where teaching about doing right for the sake of right is discussed. Why is it important that my child talks politely to my wife? Why is it OK for my daughter to ask clarification questions when she doesn’t understand what I’m saying or doing when we’re at home but not when we are at the grocery store talking to another adult? Why does it matter that your two year old brush his teeth every night? Why does it matter at all? Why does it matter if your child is lying?

That this discipline did not change the amount of love you have for them. Again, this seems like a no brainer but the truth is that it may not be. If you have violated some simple rules of good communication, this will be a good time to say your sorry. Maybe some self-disclosure would be good here. “You know, sometimes Daddy gets angry and wants to say things that he should not say too” or “Sometimes, mommy gets so frustrated she actually sees red.” Discipline is not about changing about one behavior, it is a part of creating and building a whole human. Tell your kids that nothing they do can ever change how much you love them. Tell them that every day. Especially tell them that when they are being disciplined. Sometimes, perhaps often, discipline is done in anger, which the child interprets as meaning there is something wrong with them. It is important that we express the truth that it is their actions that bother us not them. Use discipline time as an opportunity to grow your child beyond someone who is concerned with consequences only. Show them the best way to live. Show them how to do right simply because it is right. This opportunity will not always come immediately after the discipline intervention but it should happen within 24-36 hours.

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