Learning New Skills

“Don’t spank; it is harmful.”

Even if you’ve been considering not spanking, does the above actually help you? Looking beyond helping, does it make you want to change?

What if instead I said:

“Reflect your child’s feelings.”

“If he won’t come to you, get up and lead him by the hand to where you were.”

“Assume positive intent.”

“When he cannot make himself obey, help him obey as you would help with any other task he can’t do on his own.”

If you’ve been wrestling with the idea of not spanking, would the above positively-phrased instructions be more helpful than the negatively-phrased “Don’t spank; it is harmful”?

In general, when we are trying to change our behavior or mindset we have a time period where we freak out. We don’t have enough coping tools in our toolbox to make changes even if we desperately want to make them. If people just tell us what not to do, we feel lost and desperately want help to know what to do instead.

Would you agree with that?

It is certainly what I’ve seen with years of helping other moms transition from spanking to gentle discipline or even to non-punitive parenting. Even when a mom wants to have a more peaceful home, she often doesn’t know what to change and needs help.

For those of you who’ve begun (or completed) the journey away from physically punitive parenting, is this a fair summary:

Things don’t feel right or good the way you suspect they should. People you love or respect reflect your feelings of uncertainty and discomfort rather than shaming you. They tell you there is a better way. Hearing what *not* to do isn’t nearly as helpful as being given suggestions for new behaviors. You try the new behaviors imperfectly, but with encouragement and more reflection of your feelings you keep trying and you master skills that once seemed beyond your abilities. Eventually you realize your toolbox has tools and–even more exciting!–you know when to use them!

Is that a fair summary?

If you haven’t attempted to learn to parent gently/non-punitively, does this summary reflect other changes and skills you have mastered? Please go back and read the summary again. Is it true?

This has been so true in my life that I’m going to assume that most of you reading are agreeing with me. (See how convenient blogging is? I can make up answers!)

Humans learn best in loving, respectful relationships that encourage, model, and support acquiring new skills. So–because our children are human–we should assume that how we learn best is how they learn best.

When your 2yo is losing his mind, he doesn’t want to be miserable. He isn’t trying to make your life miserable either. He is immaturely expressing his Big Feelings. His immaturity means he doesn’t know what to do and doesn’t have the skills to figure out a solution.

He desperately needs you to do what people have done for you when you’ve had a new skill to master.

Things don’t feel right to him. He needs you to reflect his feelings rather than shaming him for them. He needs you to show him there is a better way. Hearing what not to do (“Stop screaming!”) isn’t nearly as helpful as being given suggestions for new behaviors (“Take a deep breath.”). At first he will imperfectly perform the new behaviors, but over time–with encouragement and more reflection of his feelings–he will master skills that once were beyond his abilities. Eventually he will have enough tools in his toolbox to regulate his Big Feelings and to recognize when he needs help from people who love him.

Teach your children new skills. Know that it will take some skills years to be mastered. Give grace to both of you while you both grow into being the people God wants you to be.

[Credit to my friend JH for the foundation of this post.]

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