Heal­ing with hugs

WHEN WE FO­CUS ON THE OTHER, WE PRO­MOTE EM­PA­THY, WRITES PAR­ENT­ING EX­PERT DR JUSTIN COUL­SON

The Cairns Post - - NEWS -

WHEN it comes to dis­ci­pline, there are two schools of thought. Some par­ents think dis­ci­pline is about pun­ish­ment.

They be­lieve the best way to teach chil­dren to learn the les­sons of life is to hurt them.

They use time-out, they with­draw priv­i­leges, they ground their kids, and in many cases they even hit them.

Other par­ents think dis­ci­pline is about guid­ing chil­dren.

They be­lieve the best way to teach chil­dren to learn the les­sons of life is to help them. They use con­ver­sa­tion, per­sua­sion, dis­cus­sion, di­plo­macy, em­pa­thy, and per­spec­tive to help their chil­dren learn.

So is there a right or a wrong way to do this? Is one bet­ter than the other? Does it de­pend on the cir­cum­stances? Should we be pa­tient and prac­tice per­sua­sion un­til we dis­cover there’s no sense talk­ing any more? At what point should we switch? Or should we just go old-school with “my house, my rules” ap­proaches to make sure our kids know we’re the par­ent?

Some will ar­gue “kids have got to learn” and pun­ish­ment is there­fore ac­cept­able. Most, how­ever, will agree this kind of dis­ci­pline is not the best way to re­spond to chal­leng­ing be­hav­iour. And most ev­i­dence sup­ports the “guid­ance” ap­proach over pun­ish­ment.

But just ex­plain­ing rules to a child is of­ten not enough. Some stud­ies re­mind us that it is im­por­tant to teach em­pa­thy by em­pha­sis­ing how our child’s ac­tions af­fect oth­ers.

Per­spec­tive tak­ing is a pow­er­ful way to teach our chil­dren to act in good ways.

In his book, Orig­i­nals, US psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Adam Grant wrote about a study com­par­ing non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jewish neigh­bours in World War II with those who didn’t. The re­searchers fo­cused on what chil­dren were told by their par­ents, and those who were in­volved in res­cu­ing gave “ex­pla­na­tions of why be­hav­iours are in­ap­pro­pri­ate, of­ten with ref­er­ence to their con­se­quences for oth­ers”. The res­cuers’ par­ents en­cour­aged their chil­dren to con­sider the im­pact of their ac­tions on oth­ers. Those who stood by and watched fo­cused on en­forc­ing com­pli­ance with the rules for their own sake.

When we fo­cus on the other child, we pro­mote em­pa­thy and a moral com­pass.

Par­ent: When you tease your sis­ter, how does it make her feel? Child: Bad. Par­ent: It sure does. What can we do to make her feel bet­ter?

When we go crazy at our kids, they miss our mes­sage and they learn to fear us. In se­ri­ous cases, we dam­age them.

When we let things slide, they miss our mes­sage and they ig­nore us. This means we aren’t par­ent­ing.

When we get the bal­ance “just right”, we en­gage them emo­tion­ally by get­ting them to fo­cus on the other per­son and their feel­ings.

We en­gage them men­tally by ask­ing them to ex­plain what they ob­serve. Then we ask them to come up with good ways to act.

This ap­proach means we main­tain a good re­la­tion­ship with them, and get an im­por­tant mes­sage through.

Em­pa­thy and per­spec­tive can be far bet­ter teach­ers than a scream­ing par­ent, the loss of a priv­i­lege, or the back of your hand.

CUD­DLE TIME: Show­ing em­pa­thy, com­pas­sion and love for chil­dren will ef­fec­tively con­vey the life mes­sages we need to share with them.

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