If you have just begun the journey toward a more effective parenting style, you may find yourself in the midst of an internal dialogue that sounds something like this: “I feel like I am being too harsh on my kids” or “I feel like all I ever say is ‘no’.” This dialogue may lead you to think that it wouldn’t be so bad if you let your tantruming toddler have that cookie “just this once” rather than to stand firm with the direction given. Or maybe you find yourself thinking that your pre-teen’s argument makes sense as to why he should go to his friend’s house even when he hasn’t done his homework.
To help you combat this subtle but damaging self-sabotage, try to keep an image of a scale in your head during the day. Your goal is to seek balance between disciplinary actions and your child’s need for encouragement, nurturance and empathy. On the hardest days, this “discipline-encouragement scale” should end up balanced by the end of the day. What this means is that for every disciplinary action you take, you should be providing one encouraging, empathetic moment for your child. These do not have to happen in succession necessarily, but just so that the scale is balanced by the end of the day. On “easier” days, the scale should be tipped in the direction of the encouragement side with the amount of positive interactions outweighing the negative ones (in your child’s eyes).
What do some of these encouraging, empathetic moments look like? Here are some examples:
- Walking by your son, you pause, bend down, put your hand on his cheek and say, “I am so glad you are in our family. It wouldn’t be the same without you.”
- On the way home from soccer practice, you say, “I really enjoy watching you practice. I can already see the progress you have made this year.”
- You smile and say to your daughter, “I have so much fun doing puzzles with you. I enjoy your company.”
- You place a note in your son’s lunchbox that says, “I love you more than you know.”
- You notice your child being kind to her sibling. You say, “I can see God at work in you when you are kind to your brother like that.”
- After school, you say to your teenage daughter, “I am glad you’re home. I was thinking a lot about you today.”
- In the midst of a meltdown, you say to your child, “Even now, I still love you.”
This type of transparency does not come easy for everyone and you may feel awkward at first. With practice, it will become second nature. You know your child best and know what types of statements or actions are encouraging to her. Don’t hesitate to try out some new ones – her reaction may surprise you!
So, fill your child’s day with encouraging, empathetic moments and you will be less likely to feel guilty about any consequence that you need to hand out. At the end of the day, you will feel confident that you have provided both the discipline and encouragement that your child needs to have a balanced “diet.”