What if someone were to use words like out-of-control, bad, aggressive, non-compliant, hard-to-manage, and defiant to inspire you towards kinder or more thoughtful behaviours?!

These are the words used in The Today Show’s recently published article, “This is the most effective way to discipline kids, according to science…” The tone of this piece inspires more of a retaliatory kick to the shins than any kind of improvement in behaviour.

If adults use these words to describe little children, what does this say about the impressions these adults hold of said little children? And how might this trickle down and impact the child’s interactions with and reactions to the adult?

What is the big miss here?

Well… where to begin…

To begin, child development has not been honoured. Children’s brains are not developed enough to allow them self-control in moments when they really want to play with that toy, or really are overwhelmed by some other big feeling. We need to STOP imposing upon children this ridiculous idea that they should just STOP misbehaving. This is about brain development. And you can’t mess with that.

Furthermore, there is a lack of respect for a child’s need for connection with their big people so that the child is able to feel settled and regulated. When children are reacted to harshly and punitively it unsettles them. And while behaviour might be immediately improved in the moment, it is at the cost of the child feeling connected to their big person, which is a child’s most intense need of all. This in turn, tends to lead to escalating, rather than improved, behaviour down the road. Interestingly, no long-term data is mentioned here.

Additionally, there are actually times when the apparent universal application of “compromise” just isn’t what needs to happen. If big people are constantly dancing around compromising all the time, then children never get the chance to have to sit in a caring, nurturing, comforting manner with a “no”. And I don’t know about you, but in moments when I am feeling unsettled, I want there to be somebody who just steps in and is in charge. Not somebody who skitters around always coming up with another possible way through. I want a big person with swagger – who is caring and kind – but with swagger nevertheless.

And finally, to suggest that kids boil down to two categories – “easy” and “hard” – and further, to then prescribe a specific route of responding which somehow pushes these suggested techniques beyond the limits of “all other parenting theories” that “come across as one size fits all” seems a bit of a stretch. The point is, there are no prescriptive strategies for responding to the complexity of human spirit in a little growing mind and body. You have to respond with heart, with connection, and in a developmentally informed way. And to do this, you will never have a script or set way of responding 1/6 of the time that will ever in all the land until the end of time work with every single child, or with all children assigned to predetermined groupings based on temperament. Ever.

Dr V