January 2019, Blog Two
Do you know where the word “discipline” comes from? It came from the word “disciple” which means a follower; one who believes in the teachings and wants to learn.. In my mind, our children are like our disciples and when we apply discipline, we should be teaching them our values and priorities. I am not sure how the word came to be equated with punishment. But it didn’t start out that way.
On the other hand, going into long explanations is not supportive of the learning process. In fact, kids of all ages stop listening after the first few sentences and we lose them. All they hear is "Bla, Bla, Bla". So where is the productive middle between shouting out a punishment or a threat for repeated offences and spending time after each event reviewing the logic behind the requirement.
I think we can all agree that if the behavior does not stop after threatening punishment or after instituting a punishment, the consequence of the actions have not been successful in the remediation of the behavior. Kids who have behavior management issues do not relate the cause and effect of the event and the punishment the same way an emotionally mature adult would. Kids have cognitive distortions that help them to rationalize their behavior and project onto the adult the unfairness of it all; or that someone else made them act this way If we do not address these cognitive distortions and help the child evaluate their thinking, they continue to project their problems on others.
What are cognitive distortions? If we separate the words, we define cognitive as thoughts, or the process of thinking. A distortion is a misguided interpretation of something perceived. It could be anything really; an event, a conversation, some ones actions, a look on someone’s face or a facial expression, etc. If our interpretation of day to day interactions with people is distorted in some way, it affects how we feel and how we react or behave. As Martin Henley says in Classroom Management: Youths who are impulsive and aggressive, in particular, harbor cognitive distortions that serve as buffers between their behavior and their culpability. These cognitive distortions provide rationales for antisocial behavior. (p.39)
Some examples of cognitive distortions are: all or nothing thinking, over generalization, magnification of the importance of a situation, or Black or white thinking. Kids who share responses that align with these or other categories of thinking, need help from us in making different connections to people and events . We do this by taking the time to try to understand their thought process. Without helping them change their thinking, the behavior will not change. In fact, they find better ways, more effective ways to deal with distorted perceptions of events and people. Kids think if they have a thought, it must be true. They often do not understand that we have zillions of thoughts that pop into our head a day. But because we think something, it does not make it true. Nor does it mean we need to act on our feelings immediately.
In Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking by Tamar I. Chansky, Ph.D. (p.70), in sharing a story about her daughter having difficulty accepting a condition, said she needed to do nothing about dealing with her daughters negative feeling except sit with her while she processed the situation. In a no judgement zone, the conversion with her daughter is as follows: “I said, Raia, you are really upset, aren’t you? Yes, she said. The first yes! You love that game, don’t you? It’s hard to stop, right? Yes and Yes Are you ready to feel better? No, she said, not yet." What an amazing conversation. Validation of ones feelings without judging them. No long diatribe about growing up or getting over it. Instead, a lesson in thoughts and feelings and how they change if we give them time. We as parents and other professionals who work with kids every day, cannot fix everything nor explain every decision. We can take the time to show the kids we understand their feelings and maybe in some cases address their concerns.
Let’s review three main points. One: punishment does not help a child learn to think, feel or behave in more appropriate ways. Two: thoughts are not always truth and teaching our children how to analyze a situation and the thoughts that accompany them, will teach them a skill they will use as an adult. And finally: many thoughts, reactions to events and people, as well as the feelings that accompany, them are really valid. We do not, however need to react to them immediately. Sometimes we need to sit with them and reflect on their importance and their affect on us short and long term.