|General Skills of Compassionate Parenting & Effective Discipline
- by: Steven Stosny, Ph.D.
Compassionate Parenting provides a secure emotional base from which
children carry out their genetic programs to explore and interact with
their environments in safety and protection. At the same time, parents
develop the protective, nurturing, and compassionate skills that empower
them in all areas of life, including work and health. We simply function
at our best when we have emotional connections with our children that are
strong, flexible, and enjoyable.
Compassion most definitely does not mean letting children get away with
bad or selfish behavior. It does not mean that parents should go along
with whatever children want. Nor does it mean overindulgence, generosity,
or magnanimity. Compassionate parents are able to see beneath the surface
of their children's behavior to get at the deeper motivations. They empower
children to control their own behavior by teaching them to regulate their
Compassionate Parenting is certainly not perfect parenting. The best
parents in the world do not go a single day without making some error in
what they do or say to their children. Fortunately, kids are extremely
resilient when it comes to parental mistakes. A major tenet of the Compassionate
Parenting program is that whatever parents say and do matters far less
than their emotional motivation. Unless a child is deep into a destructive
mode, almost anything a parent says or does in apositive mode will succeed.
In fact, experiments show that children perceive even highly critical statements
done with positive motivation as caring and encouraging.
Regardless of what mode the child is in, almost nothing the parent says
or does in the negative or destructive modes will work. Parents must not
match the negative and destructive motivations of their children in kind.
Doing so only reinforces them and teaches kids the dangerous lesson that
the one with the most power to be negative and destructive wins.
General Skills of Compassionate Parenting
• Listen to your children. Research shows that children in all stages
of development complain that their parents yell too much and listen too
• As much as possible, let solutions to problems come from the children.
As they mature, your job is less to give answers and more and more to ask
the questions that lead them to solutions.
• Choose toys that have something beneath the surface to help deepen
their interest. Young children cannot sustain interest for long, but they
can develop a beginning awareness that interest works better when it runs
deeper than the surface.
• Understand that change stimulates emotion. You and your children will
have emotional response to change, regardless of the content.
• Take care to respond to positive emotions as well as negative. Otherwise,
you set up the habit of using trouble to get attention. Compassionate attention
to expressions of interest and enjoyment are opportunities to develop positive
emotional response in children and adults.
• Express affection to your children and to other adults in the family.
General Rules of Effective Discipline
Like all human beings, children need discipline to help them function
at their best. They actually want discipline. Children who receive little
discipline tend to feel unloved, isolated, and unprotected. Many adolescents
from undisciplined homes lie to their peers and make up limits that they
attribute to neglectful parents.
Children view it as the job of parents to set limits and as their job
to oppose them. Compassionate Parents set firm limits about important issues
of safety, health, learning, education, and morality and encourage cooperation
with the rest.
Many discipline problems rise from some physical discomfort, such as
hunger or sleep deprivation. Take care that the child's physical needs
and your own are met. Emotional discomfort caused by nervous energy, anxiety,
and disappointment accounts for most the rest. Of course, discipline that
increases anxiety, such as yelling or shaming, will only make emotional
discomfort worse and produce more of the undesired behavior, at least in
the long run.
• Discipline must be implemented with positive parental motivation to
protect, nurture, encourage, influence, guide, or cooperate.
• Discipline is a long-term project. Except around safety issues, discipline
is never for a single behavior. Rather, it is to give direction for a stream
of behaviors over time.
• Stress safety, health, learning, education, and morality as goals
that produce pride and empowerment.
• Whenever possible, point out how the long-term best interests of the
child are served by cooperation.
• Focus on what you want, not what you don't want. Give short, clear
instructions. Don't yell.
• Keep the focus on the behavior, not your emotional state. Never discipline
• Ask questions whenever possible to help children come up with their
own motivation to cooperate. The regulation for behavior must be established
in the child, not in you as policeman.
• Help children to understand that their behavior is a choice. They
always have the power to choose better behavior.
• Help children think through the consequences of their behavior choices,
especially the response that their behavior invokes in other people.
About The Author
Dr. Steven Stosny’s most recent books is, You Don’t Have to Take It
Anymore: Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship
into a Compassionate, Loving One. He has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey
Show,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” and CNN’s “Talkback Live” and “Anderson Cooper
360” and has been the subject of articles in, The New York Times, The Washington
Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, Cosmopolitan,
O, Psychology Today, AP, Reuters, and USA Today. His website is http://compassionpower.com.