Inside: Discipline your child without shame and control and instead help them build the skills they will use their whole life from within. One phrase you should always use with your toddler when disciplining. A phrase that empowers rather than shames.
The original meaning of the word discipline comes from the Latin disciplina, meaning “teaching, learning” and is related to the word disciple. As parents then we are teachers — teachers who are still learning ourselves.
Our goal is to teach our children how to behave in social situations so they can form deep and meaningful relationships with others throughout their lives.
When we discipline our children we want to empower them to change their behavior, not shame them or try to control them. We want our children to build up these skills within, not conform to set rules.
Children will naturally outgrow many “problem” behaviors as their brain grows and they gain more self-regulation.
In the meantime, we have to show our children that their emotions are valid and not threats and that mistakes are learning opportunities, not something to feel shame about.
Growth Mindset and Empowerment
Children live in the here and now and young children, in particular, think in a “fixed” mindset meaning that they don’t naturally assume things can or will change.
We have to teach them that they can change their behavior, that they can grow.
For example, when children realize they have done something wrong they feel failure, and to them, it feels permanent — a permanent mistake.
How can we help our kids move from a feeling of failure and shame to a feeling of empowerment to learn and grow?
Positive Discipline for Toddlers and Preschoolers: Shift from Shame to Empowerment
When your child does something you want them to do differently like your child expresses their frustration by pushing another child down, follow these steps:
- Acknowledge the feeling or impulse while setting a boundary: “It is okay to have big feelings and I won’t let you use your hands to show your big feelings.”
- Allow the Expression of Emotion: Children may react emotionally to having their goals blocked. Accept those big emotions, and reinforce the first step. “It is okay to feel frustration, I will keep you and your friend safe, I won’t let you push.”
- Comfort and soothe: If they are in the midst of big emotions, you goal is to help their nervous system calm down and to not act like emotions are a threat.
- Once Calm, Problem Solve: How can you both play with the toy?
- Empower, Don’t Shame: Once children calm down feelings of shame can set it. They know they’ve made a mistake and had big emotions and if you are just beginning to work on accepting emotions, this can be expecially true. Help them feel empowered by saying always saying this phrase, “You’ll remember next time.”
Why it Works: Shifting Focus to the Positive
This is the one phrase we use all the time in our family, a phrase that helps empower children to change their behavior instead of shaming them. That one simple phrase communicates so much to children. It tells them that their failure today isn’t a permanent failure and that they can change.
And it shifts the focus from the negative behavior to the positive, “You’ll remember next time to use your words.”
It also helps them resolve their current feelings (I feel bad now, but next time I can do better) and gives them a sense of relief and a desire to try next time.
If they do remember next time they might even point it out to you “I remembered Mama! I used my words!” with their eyes shining with pride. And you’ll respond with a “Yes, you did remember! You used your words!” just as excited as they are.
When they do that you’ll know it happened — they were empowered to change their behavior from within. The shift to the positive worked, along with learning opportunities (without mistakes they wouldn’t learn) and brain maturity.
And it’s okay if they don’t remember. The phrase still works because sometimes they will remember — and there is always the next time. This helps shift the focus from the times they’ve made a mistake (which really is brain immaturity and learning opportunities) and to focus on the times they do remember.