8 Ways to Improve Your Child's Behavior (Without Using Shame or Punishment)- Part 2

Here are four more ways to guide your child's behavior while modeling love and empathy and staying connected.

5. Adopt The Motto- “Children need the most love when they act the least deserving of it.” Yet another one of my favorite internal reminders. I use this one A LOT. Cut to my almost-six-year-old throwing markers at me like a pitching machine shooting out balls. That happened yesterday. Sigh. Using the “Children need the most love” motto, I managed to bypass a mom-just-entered-the-red-zone moment and stay connected to what he needed. Which was a hug.

I sure as heck did not feel like hugging him in that moment (did I mention that several of the uncapped markers left “decorations,” as my younger son called them, on my sweater and jeans? He’s a good shot.), but the motto reminded me that he needed my love, not my anger.

Dodging airborne markers, I made my way over to him, grabbed his arms to stop him from throwing, and pulled him close to me. He struggled at first, but I stayed the course and said firmly, “I’m going to hold you until your body calms down.” It took several minutes of his resisting (and some serious deep-breathing on my end), but finally he collapsed into my arms.

Once he was calm, we were able to revisit what happened. As it turned out, he was both overstimulated and overtired. I got our yoga ball and did one of his favorite calming activities- yoga ball body rolling (he lays down and I literally roll a yoga ball over his body)- to help soothe his overdone nervous system.

We discussed what he could do about my newly "decorated" clothes. We agreed (I suggested) that he help me put stain remover on the marks and put them in the laundry. Thank god for washable markers!

Bottom line: When our kids are acting out in ways that absolutely enrage us, that is when they need our love the most.

6. Use Compassionate Discipline. Many parents fall into the trap of black or white thinking when it comes to discipline. We think the alternative to yelling, shaming, and time-outs is singing Kumbaya in the lotus position while our kids run around acting like hellions.

But, “discipline” can still exist without shame and punishment. This middle ground is what psychologists call an Authoritative Parenting style, characterized by empathy, attunement, and limits.

Also referred to as “compassionate discipline,” research shows that when parents combine empathy and attunement with limits around problematic behaviors, children learn how to self-regulate, have happier dispositions, develop good social skills, and become more self-confident.

So, what does “compassionate discipline” look like?

Your child wants a cookie for a snack. You say no. Your child screams, “I WANT A COOKIE!!!!!” then hits you.

A shaming and punishing response would entail you grabbing his arm and yelling, “Don’t you dare hit me.” You’d forcefully usher him off to a “time-out” in his room, adding angrily, “You can sit here and think about how you’re acting. And now, you’re not having any snack.” Then you'd storm out of the room.

If you’re cringing a little reading this, thinking, Oh my gosh, I’ve totally responded like that to my kids….numerous times! Don’t worry...we all have. Every single parent in the history of parenting has had moments of losing it when they’ve said and done things they wish they hadn’t. It’s called being human. Remember, being a parent is the absolute hardest job you’ll ever face! We all have to give ourselves a little grace.

Ok, back to our scenario: Your son has just screamed at you and hit you. Using compassionate discipline, you would get down on his level, hold his arms (if he continued to hit) and calmly and firmly say, “I’m not going to let you hit me.” If he continued, you would hold him and firmly say, “Mommy is going to hold you until your body calms down.”

Once he was calm, you’d continue, “I know you really wanted a cookie and I wish I could give you one, but it’s Mommy’s job to make sure you eat healthy foods to keep your body feeling good and a cookie isn’t a good choice. You can either have an apple or some crackers and cheese, what would you like?”

If your child continued to insist on having a cookie, you’d let him know you hear him (validate and mirror) by saying, “I know you really want a cookie.” Then repeat the choices, “You can either have an apple or crackers and cheese, what would you like?”

The limits in this scenario are:

  • You stopping his body from hitting
  • Holding him until he’s calm
  • Staying firm on your No - not caving in and giving him the cookie

Through the whole scenario you’re modeling self-regulation by staying calm and objective. We don’t have to launch into a lecture about hitting and being disrespectful, and we don’t have to punish him by sending him to time-out and withholding a snack. Those reactions will only result in more acting out.

Remember: Kids learn by what we do not by what we say.

When we react to challenging behaviors by using shame and punishment, we model emotional dysregulation, anger, and impulsiveness, ironically the same qualities that fueled our child’s challenging behavior.

When we use compassionate discipline, we create boundaries around our kids’ challenging behaviors while modeling love, empathy, and self-regulation. As a result, our kids internalize these qualities and their challenging behaviors decrease over time.

7. Catch Them Being Good. It’s easy to become overly focused on our kids’ misbehavior at the expense of all the times they’re sweet, wonderful, and loving. The antidote? “Catch them being good.”

When your older child helps his younger brother make a paper airplane, acknowledge him. When your daughter makes her bed without your asking, acknowledge her. When your toddler transitions from playing to naptime without a meltdown, give him a hug and acknowledge him.

Catching them being good takes the focus off the negative behavior and creates a snowball effect. The more you “catch them being good”, the more “good” they’ll be.

8. Repair The Rupture. As I’ve said before, we all have our less than stellar parenting moments. We’re feeling rundown, overtired, and stressed, our kids push our buttons and we lose it. We do and say things we regret. And then the guilt sets in. Is there anything worse than parenting guilt? Ugh. It’s the worst.

I have good news. There’s a silver lining to our parenting fails. Though they feel awful, our worst parenting moments actually provide us with a wonderful opportunity to model accountability, apology, and self-compassion.

Here’s how to do it:

You’ve snapped and yelled at your child, said something shaming and basically behaved like a tantruming 3-year-old yourself. You wait until the dust has settled and your and your child’s nervous systems have returned to the green zone. You hug your child and say something to the effect of, “I’m so sorry I got angry. I imagine it’s scary when Mommy yells and you didn’t deserve that. Sometimes it’s hard for Mommy to stay calm and I need to work on that. I love you very much.” Then, ask your child how she feels and talk about what happened. Ask her how she thinks you both could have handled the situation differently and end with a hug and a kiss.

Re-establishing the connection with your child after a parenting mishap is an essential part of ensuring she feels loved and will help mitigate future behavioral challenges.

How do these strategies resonate with you? Have you tried any of them? What has worked and what hasn’t? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.


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Hi! I'm Cameron, mom of two incredible, "differently-wired" boys who have sensory processing challenges, wife of a nerdy surfer, mindfulness practitioner and Parenting Coach with master's degrees in education and psychology.