John Cowan on being a coach
John Cowan on being a coach not a prosecutor.
Who-dunnit detective stories, police shows and CSI style programmes – people love the idea of identifying and punishing the wrongdoer. That might be good for law and order, but it is not the best strategy in our homes with our kids. “Catch ‘em and punish ‘em” is not discipline. Think of yourself as a coach, not as a prosecuting lawyer. Good discipline doesn’t focus on the ‘crime’ our kids commit, but rather the intention is to help them make a better decision the next time the child is in a similar situation. The goal is not to make them feel bad about what they did, the goal is that they will do better thinking and make a better choice next time.
The question, “WHY did you do this!?” never gets a good answer. They know they can’t give you a satisfactory reason for smashing your vase or scribbling on the wall-paper. Instead they will just redden and fume, and their brain will lock up with emotion. Better questions focus on the future: “What would be a better way to get the remote instead of climbing up the China cabinet?” “If you want to do some drawing, where’s a good place to do it?”
Sadly, what often gets called ‘discipline’ is really just ‘revenge’. They have made you upset and so you are going to make them upset. Maybe a penalty is appropriate, but make sure it is not so harsh that the child only thinks of the perceived injustice they are suffering rather than how to behave better. The real benefit is the debriefing and
problem solving you do later.
Take care how you label your children during discipline. “You liar!” is so much different from, “That’s a lie and we tell the truth in this family”; “You’re a thief!” means something quite different from. “Hey, that’s stealing, and you know that is not on!” Calling them a ‘liar’ or ‘thief’ is labelling them, giving them the impression that we always think of them as a liar or theif; it is so much better to label the action instead of the child. Let them know that your displeasure is not because you think they are ‘bad’ but rather you are upset and disappointed that their behaviour is bad when you are so sure they really are a good kid. Discipline, done well, can actually leave a child’s self esteem intact or even bolstered.
It takes years for kids to develop good ‘brakes’, to grow their impulse control to stop them doing silly, immature and mischievous things. Your kids are not villains; they are good kids and you are helping them to learn how to behave. Their misdemeanours are opportunities for you to coach and train them.
Possibly the discipline at your home would make a very dull TV show compared with a detective Who-dunnit but I think your story will have a much happier ending.