Healthy Discipline: Maintaining Connection, Part 2

In today’s blog I invite readers to continue on a journey to better understand the nature and importance of maintaining a strong and healthy connection with children, especially during times of disciplining.

Teach the lesson and strengthen the connection

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and GrandmotherDevelopment

Below is a comment from Jean Illsley Clarke, from her book, Connections: The Threads That Strengthen Families. It states that “The goal of discipline is to teach the needed lesson, to help the child become more responsible, and to strengthen rather than rupture connection. It is not our job as parents to raise good children. It is our job, instead, to help children stay in touch with and develop the goodness within them and to act upon that. As we look for ways to help children find their own goodness, let’s not forget that the connection we have with children is the most important part of discipline.” [Page 67]

She adds a description of powerful research of the long-lasting effects of disciplinary methods that influenced most of the 400+ rescuers of victims during the Holocaust. They reported that their parents used explanations and discussions rather than punitive discipline. This approach influenced the innate moral goodness within each of them that compelled them as adults to risk their own lives while saving the lives of others.

She also contrasts how Hitler was raised. He was beaten on a daily basis. This stresses the importance of strengthening our relationships with children as we teach them, while not breaking the child’s spirit, which needs to be protected.

No-Drama Discipline

In the book No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, author Daniel Siegel, M.D. dedicates two chapters on the importance of connection when disciplining children. He notes that connection serves to calm a distressed child who may be acting out because he or she is so dis-regulated, and therefore out of control.

He notes that “connection takes a child from reactivity to receptivity.” [Page 78] He further notes that connection “… builds the brain of a child by improving his capacity for relationships, self-control, empathy, personal insight, and much more.” [Page 79]  He also states that the message you want to transmit when disciplining a child and simultaneously promoting connection is, “I’m here for you even when you’re falling apart and at their absolute worst. I can take it. I’ve got your back. No matter what.” [Page 88]

He goes on to stress that maintaining connection is not about being permissive, so parents do not let their children harm themselves or others. Setting boundaries is still very important and a parent should do this while simultaneously communicating the message that the parent is connected to the child.

This is a lot to take in!

And I think the previous blog posts that focused on the Effective Discipline Report Card makes it apparent that being calm, clear, confident, compassionate and maintaining connection requires a great deal of self-discipline on the part of a parent.

It certainly can be easier in the moment to be reactive and to use one’s power to force children to comply or to cave in and overindulge! By remembering the goals Jean Illsley Clarke suggests, parents can appreciate the potential long-term impact of consciously disciplining their children in these healthy ways, and influencing the development of the adults they will become—who are morally and relationally strong.

Invitation to reflect:

  1. To what extent do you resonate with the goals Jean Illsley Clarke invites parents to embrace, i.e. “ to teach the needed lesson, to help the child become more responsible, and to strengthen rather than rupture connection?” How can you relate these goals to specific moments when you are disciplining your child or children?
  2. How aware have you been of the messages you transmit when disciplining your child or children?  To what extent do you resonate with Dan Siegel’s suggested healthy message that incorporates connection with disciplining?
  3. How are you feeling as you work on becoming calmer, clearer, more confident, and more compassionate and now focused on maintaining connection when disciplining? To what extent are you feeling more empowered or more intimidated by this information? What can help you move towards feeling more empowered?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network