Discipline Through Connection
Guest Authors: Chris and Liz Leonard
“I hate you!” “You don’t love me.” “No one cares about me.” About a year ago, it became apparent that we needed to change how we parent our children. We didn’t know what needed to change, but we knew that we couldn’t stay on the course we were on. Our pediatrician assured us that these big emotions were normal for the age, but we knew differently in our hearts. We didn’t know what else to do than to pray for insight and wisdom.
After months of praying, God led us to resources and to heart change. The first change came in response to reading Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp and Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane C. Ortland. We were struck by the need to live as ambassadors of grace to our children.
With a full understanding of the weight of our sin and the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ, we are called to live graciously and humbly among those around us – including our children. Rather than being annoyed by their outbursts, we should see them as opportunities to show grace in the same way that God shows grace to us. Their sin is an opportunity to share their need for a Savior. Our sin is an opportunity to ask for their forgiveness and to demonstrate that we also need a Savior.
The second change came as we encountered practical tools to effectively connect with our kids prior to disciplining them. We can all tell when our kids are really listening or just responding the way they know they have to, so the lecture can end! The first tools came when a friend mentioned the Connected Families podcast. In quick succession, another friend shared a book called The Whole-Brained Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. We learned that we needed to connect with our kids before we tried to correct them.
Before kids (or adults) are willing to listen, they need to feel like they’ve been heard. Demonstrating compassion and asking clarifying questions enables us to connect with our kids’ hearts and to give them the words to understand their emotions before we try to tame them. Once the child has calmed down, we can do the hard work of discipline with reasonable consequences. Then we can coach them toward reconciliation with God and with whomever they were hurting. Rather than commanding and demanding a change in our children’s attitudes and behavior, we want to connect and coach our children. In this way, they come to understand the unique talents God gave each of them to love and to serve Him into adulthood.
Change isn’t easy, for the children or for us. Even though we are better equipped to parent our 3 young children, our home is often far from peaceful. It can be difficult to remember these new tools in the tension of a child’s meltdown, but we’re improving. Thank God for prayer, forgiveness, and the opportunity to try again today. We haven’t arrived, but we are hopeful that we are headed in a better direction with a posture of humility and grace. There was a meltdown over chores just this past weekend. About 10 minutes later the child apologized and said, “I may get angry sometimes but I always love you.”