We often hear harried parents and teachers grappling with the issue of young children not listening to them. This is often ascribed to a lack of discipline. Adults want to discipline children and make them comply. So much so, that many a times it becomes a tug of war and leads to more damage than discipline. Finally either the adult gives in or the adult controls and commands. Either way, on the surface of things there is peace but the abrasions are never forgotten: the scars lie deep to resurface at another point.
The question that we all seek answers to is, how do we inculcate discipline without damage? How do we get young children to ‘listen’ to us?
The adult approach to discipline often revolves around dismissing or denying feelings. Most of the meltdown situations that we encounter are due to the denial of feelings. This leads to the child not feeling right.
A typical scenario could be a child crying, “I have lost my favourite toy”, or “My friends laughed at me…” We usually respond as adults …we deny (nothing to cry), philosophize (toys do get lost), question (how? why?), advise (just get another toy), pity (Oh no! My poor baby)
We rarely empathize; we almost always deny their feelings. However, for a child, this scenario is equivalent to an adult suffering some loss.
So how do we make children feel right?
We need to accept children as separate individuals. The next step is to accept their feelings. Finally, respond to them with full understanding.
In order to understand this better, we need to understand how the human brain develops. The left hemisphere/side or the left brain controls logic, problem-solving and related issues. The right side controls our emotions and feelings along with creativity and related tasks.
Very young children (less than 3 years) are more right-brained: they don’t have the words/haven’t mastered logic, do not understand responsibility. With age, the responses governed by the left brain develop.
When a child is upset, the child is experiencing big waves of feelings and emotions so the right brain activity is high. The left brain is not very developed so logic is low. When we deny/dismiss or question then our response is directed towards the left brain which unfortunately is not well developed in young children. The child thinks you don’t understand her. Your logical response often goes waste- hits a wall!
So how do we develop a better response? An effective strategy as propagated by Faber and Mazlish is ‘Connect and Redirect’.
Connect using the right brain
- Use your soft touch, gestures, voice, expressions to express that you acknowledge and understand feelings
- Make the child feel comfortable
- Do not judge how silly or illogical his/her words are- just listen
Then redirect to the left brain for problem-solving:
- Explanations and Logic may follow
- Strategies can be developed
- Rules and Norms can be emphasized
Let’s not react but let’s respond to our children: we can take a pause in those microseconds and be mindful to ‘connect and redirect’. Using this empathic technique, we can seek cooperation from children and ensure that we discipline without damage.