Discipline -Five Ways to Use Connection To Get Cooperation

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Discipline and managing toddler tantrums are pretty common parenting topics! After sleep and feeding, discipline just might be the most frequently asked question of parents with young children.

Parenting, discipline, and co-regulation are things that invariably weave in and out of any conversation families have with me about sleep, feeding, and development. Even when discipline and regulation are not the key challenges, they are inevitably part of the solution. How empowered we feel about parenting, and how available strategies are to us "in the moment" can make a BIG difference.

Discipline is about guiding, teaching, mentoring, and modeling.  Discipline, in this broad and collaborative view, is involved in every aspect of our parenting.  When I work with you, discipline and parenting are integral parts of helping you through the questions and challenges you have in supporting your infant's development. 

Here are some strategies for connected parenting to make tantrums, defiance, and disconnection evolve into regulation, connection, and cooperation.

These strategies are based on the work by Gordon Neufeld, Canadian Developmental Psychologist who focuses on the attachment needs of children with their key caregivers. These strategies can help to get a reluctant kiddo in the car, or in bed, or to the table by working on the sweet spot of connection. I've seen these work to diffuse anger and defiance in toddlers and preschoolers, but it takes a significant degree of getting ourselves into a calm spot first --if whatever task is at hand is not extremely time sensitive or an urgent safety issue, then you can slow down and know that the long game results in connection.

Ultimately, when these strategies are in place, you get out the door, or get good night kisses sooner that you would by trying to fight tooth and nail against a kiddo who sees your agenda and decides he or she doesn’t like it. So: take a long deep breath, slow down, and see what power connected parenting has over smoothing out the ragged edges of parent-child relationships.

1. Get them saying 'yes'.

Ask simple questions for which the answer is yes. "Do you remember....?", "Do you like...?", "Was that fun...?". "Is blue your favourite colour?". Get them nodding in agreement. This re-connects the two of you, and diffuses the defiance or stubbornness each of you may be feeling.

2. Get them smiling.

Smile with them. Soften. Connect emotionally through light, playful, or fun connection. Pull out the wrong colour and insist it's blue even though it is obviously red --ham it up. Be silly.

3. Lean in rather than pull.

Kids will naturally react with counter will (the exact opposite of what you want them to do) when they feel they are being pulled to do something. Neufeld uses the expression “come alongside” to emphasize that we do not have to be on the opposing team as our kids. We can be going through a tantrum or challenging time and still be “on our kids’ sides”. We can still have boundaries while still keeping our expression soft and loving. Our intention is to work together to get where we need to go, rather than to create a means to an end.

4. Connect on an emotional and non-coercive level.

Kids who are connected feel attached and want to cooperate. Get to that point where they choose to cooperate, to communicate, and to connect. In the end this reinforces their attachment with you, which needs to be rebuilt daily. Short cuts include punishment, rewards, and forcing compliance. Take the scenic route and you will be blessed with a child who may joyfully agree to go along with your plans.

5. Take it in the moment.

Be present to their need for connection in the present moment rather than thinking ahead to when you need them to agree or cooperate. Also know that connection isn’t a “done deal”. Attachment can be broken and rebuilt several times over the day. Think about ways to build connection and reflect on whether a breakdown in cooperation is happening because connection has been broken. Toddlerhood and the preschool age is a wonderful, exciting, and tough period of time! Lean in, connect, and see what happens! You may be surprised by how powerful a connection is in moving your child towards cooperation.

Connected Parenting Discipline Resources

I've been asked if I would offer a discipline workshop and I'd love to! But I have a few other projects brewing so would like to suggest the following three resources:

For those looking for connection-based parenting strategies on the web, I recommend Dr. Laura Markham's website, ahaparenting.com. I find Aha Parenting to be consistently great in approaching these challenges, and Laura divides information by developmental age, making it easy to find something helpful right away.

For those who want an online workshop on discipline sooner rather than later, I recommend Dr. Tracy Cassels' e-course that begins in August. Tracy is a colleague of mine and I respect her work. You can explore the course here: http://evolutionaryparenting.com/pr…/sharing-control-course/

For a more in-depth exploration around connection and discipline, consider taking Laura Markham’s online course through ahaparenting.com or Gordon Neufeld’s course, “Making Sense of Preschoolers”. Don’t let the name fool you: his strategies work for understanding and connecting with adults too.


And last, for one on one support around discipline, I welcome the opportunity to support you.  My focus is on understanding what is happening when a child is having a tantrum or meltdown, and how to self regulate to provide support, and boundaries, for a child who is having big emotions.  This approach applies as much to bedtime routines and mealtimes, as it does to the day to day challenges of negotiating how to meet everyone's needs.  When we understand the need, we can better meet the need.  

Other Resources on Connected Discipline

Karen Young, Correction Through Connection: As it turns out there is no other way. At www.Sigmund.com.

Gordon Neufeld, www.neufeldinstitute.com.