In the world of adoption and foster care we are learning much about trauma and its impact on children and their brains. It is almost impossible to attend a workshop, conference, or webinar that doesn’t cover some foundational information about trauma, along with the importance of building connections with the children in our care. These discussions of trauma and attachment can, at times, leave a parent feeling paralyzed in how to respond to misbehavior for fear they will cause further damage and trauma.
The truth is that limits and boundaries promote feelings of security and safety for children. A child needs security and safety in order to reach the place of healing. As we provide discipline, (training that corrects, molds, and encourages moral character) rather than punishment (which can be punitive and create fear in a child), we help that child find the secure foundation they need. If discipline is administered in a healthy way, it teaches and equips our children to develop the life skills they will need to be successful.
Perfect Correction and Discipline:
Only our heavenly Father is able to administer perfect correction and discipline. In our own power we cannot. Each child and each situation is so unique that we need God’s wisdom and help in training our children.
- James 1:5 reminds us that “if any man lack wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach.” While God holds us to very high standards He also provides a helper in the form of the Holy Spirit to meet His requirements.
- John 14: 15-16 states, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” Finally, when we fail to keep His commands He is there, extending His sweet forgiveness.
- Lamentations 3:22-23 proclaims, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
These three biblical truths will be foundational as you begin to train and correct your child. First, spend time in prayer asking for God’s wisdom each day. Secondly, rely on prayer and the Holy Spirit to assist you in being calm as you interact with your child and finally recognize that it is important to have a new start each day and not carry over feelings of frustration and resentment.
If the child or others are not in immediate danger then before you engage in corrective action take a moment to further apply the above principles.
- Take time to calm yourself before you engage your child. Responding in frustration and anger will only escalate the situation. Check in with your mental state.
- Remember that there is a need behind your child’s behavior. Don’t take their behavior personally. Your child would likely be reacting this way to any parent.
- Remind yourself of the goal of discipline. Discipline is an opportunity to connect with your child, letting them know you are on their team. It is an opportunity to help them learn self-regulation. It is an opportunity to help your child learn life skills such as respect, responsibility, compromise and negotiation.
If your body, mind and spirit are calm and focused on the goals of discipline then you are ready to move forward with positive correction.
- Do focus on the behavior, not the child.
- Do get on your child’s level; sit or kneel down so that you are face-to-face or side-by-side.
- Do make eye contact if your child can tolerate this; be careful as forced eye contact can create a defensive stance in your child.
- Do use correction and set reasonable goals and expectations that are age and developmentally appropriate.
- Do use humor and playfulness to diffuse the situation and get your child’s attention; gentle correction may be enough to get your child back on track.
- Do use a firm but kind tone of voice.
- Do give correction and instruction in short phrases or sentences.
- Do name the behavior you do want to establish. For example rather than, “Don’t run” you can say “Use your walking feet.”
- Do use positive messages. rather than saying, “Don’t lie” you might say, “I want to be able to trust you and will be waiting here when you can communicate with me honestly”.
- Do allow time for the child to practice the right behavior and try again. This is often referred to as a “re-do”. It helps to re-wire the brain and establish those positive behaviors you want to see.
- Do take into consideration your child’s day. Are they adequately rested, fed, and hydrated? Give grace where it is needed. What about you? Give yourself the same grace.
- Do set your child up for success. If a privilege is taken away, then let them know what they need to do to earn it back, and make the goal realistic and achievable.
- Do be a part of the team; if the consequence is an extra household chore, then consider surprising your child by helping them with the task. You can develop some great connections as you wash those dishes or rake those leaves together.
- Do catch your child when they are doing well with obedience and praise them for how well they are self-regulating, being calm, or using their words. Name the specific behavior you notice not just that they are being “good.”
- Do apologize when you overreact (and all parents do) and ask the child if you can have a “re-do.”
- Don’t lecture or use more words than necessary. Your child will stop listening if it goes too long.
- Don’t threaten or give warnings. Simply state what you need from the child. This takes out the combative nature of correction.
- Don’t overdo the consequence. Our children can get overwhelmed easily, and if the consequence lasts too long a child will feel defeated and give up before they are successful.
- Don’t give up! Progress with our children can often feel like two steps forward and one step back. Adjust your expectations for your child keeping in mind how much they are working to overcome.
As you seek the Lord for wisdom in correction and discipline, extend to them the mercies of new beginnings. As you apply the dos and don’ts of delivering consequences you will be building on your connection and relationship with your child. You will be able to use each of the discipline moments to see them become respectful of themselves and others, to be responsible toward their own and others’ possessions, and to learn how to master and control their own emotions and feelings. You will be setting your child up for success as they gain these important life skills. And, most importantly, you will be modeling for them the character of Christ.