The Power of 10
In 101 Things to Do Instead of Yelling at or Spanking Your Child, I listed 101 activities adults can try in an effort to calm down when faced with a parenting challenge.
For anyone still on the fence about giving yourself a chance to calm down before you come back to your child (after your child has done something you believe is inappropriate, etc.), consider this:
Will your child’s behavior matter in 10 seconds? 10 minutes? 10 hours? Will it matter in 10 days, weeks, months, or years?
How about your response – how will the punishment you choose affect your child in 10 seconds? 10 minutes? 10 hours? How will the way you choose to punish your child matter in 10 days, weeks, months, or years?1
Will your child’s behavior matter in 10 seconds?
*If you refrained from intervening for 10 seconds, your child might actually stop the behavior on his or her own. You might be surprised, not only by how much you misinterpret your child’s behavior (i.e., by assuming bad intentions2), but also by how much children can work out their own struggles without adult help (both individual struggles and struggles with friends/siblings).
Will your child’s behavior matter in 10 minutes?
*Let’s assume that the behavior continued, or it was something that was already finished (marker on the walls, water on the floor, etc.). 10 minutes from now, after it’s cleaned up, after the struggle has lessened, will you be quite as frustrated? Is it permanent? Is it something irreplaceable or incapable of repair?
Will your child’s behavior matter in 10 hours?
*In the world of small children, 10 hours can be a lifetime in terms of mood changes. Will your child’s tantrum matter 10 hours from now? Or will you have moved on? If it does matter, is it because you are incapable of forgiving your child? Perhaps you would benefit from help in letting go of negative emotions. Naomi Aldort’s book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves has wisdom on not taking your children’s behavior personally.
Will your child’s behavior matter in 10 days?
*10 days from now, today’s behavior will be a blip on the radar. You might still be dealing with the same general behavior, but modeling appropriate behavior and responding to your child gently and respectfully will work just as well – if not better – than responding harshly and with punishment. Sura Hart’s Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids is a good read to learn how to model and respond with respect – and get the same in return.
Will your child’s behavior matter in 10 weeks?
*Some challenging childhood behaviors are simply due to a developmental stage or to the learning process. For example, many parents can attest to the fact that difficult behaviors peak just before their children reach a new developmental stage: walking, talking, or other mental leaps. Children may also be more prone to meltdowns or grumpy moods when they are struggling to learn new concepts or skills.
Think about how hard it is for you to learn a new computer program or skill – now think about how much new information children are processing all the time! When challenging behavior happens, reassure yourself that in 10 weeks, the behavior will likely have disappeared as children surmount the learning or developmental curve.
Will your child’s behavior matter in 10 months?
*It helps to remember that when children act out or “misbehave,” they are generally trying to get a need met. Rather than thinking of behavior in terms of something to be stopped or changed, start thinking about why your child acted in the way he did, and respond to the needs rather than the behavior. I will guarantee you that if you are responding to your child’s needs, his individual behaviors will not matter 10 months from now, because he will feel heard, cared for, and respected.
Will your child’s behavior matter in 10 years?
*Let’s say your struggle is with a child who has not yet developed “good” manners, or a child who is not responding to requests respectfully, or one of the myriad things that we try to teach children so that they can function in society. If we assume that your child’s behavior will matter in 10 years, there is still no reason to use harsh discipline tactics in response. Most, if not all, common childhood struggles can be positively responded to using play, love, and patience. Your child’s behavior will either be altered or reinforced through how you choose to respond to it: children can either blindly obey out of fear, or they can internalize values because they are modeled and explained so that the child understands them.
It is also helpful to remember not to discipline for behaviors that are developmentally appropriate.
And if you were to punish the child immediately, how would that matter?
How will your punishment affect your child in 10 seconds?
*Imagine the fear and helplessness that will immediately envelope your child when you yell at or spank her. Her whole demeanor will change: she will shrink into herself, her eyes will go wide with terror, she will shut down in reaction to the act of violence.3
How will your punishment affect your child in 10 minutes?
*So often when we see red because of something our child has done, if we would only take 10 or 20 minutes to calm down and think rationally, we can respond better than if we simply react.4
And if we respond gently rather than reacting, the scene can be entirely different 10 minutes from the initial behavior. Think about it: if you react immediately – yelling, angrily sending your child to his room, spanking him – in 10 minutes your child may still be crying, resentful, and scared. You will probably still be angry – angry with your child, angry with yourself for overreacting.
But if you take time to calm down and respond gently to the child’s behavior, in 10 minutes you could be approaching your child in love. You could be talking to him patiently about what happened. You could be helping him meet his need instead of simply reacting to his behavior.
How will your punishment affect your child in 10 hours?
*If your house is anything like mine, unresolved stress and anger can affect us for hours, even days on end. 10 hours after I express anger with my preschooler, I may still be dealing with tears and meltdowns that seemingly come out of nowhere, but in reality they are the direct result of my failure to approach Kieran’s behavior with gentleness and respect, or at least our failure to talk through the situation and express our hurts and frustration.
How will your punishment affect your child in 10 days?
*If your child is following rules and obeying out of fear (instead of internalizing socially appropriate ways to act through modeling and gentle discipline), he will be less likely to learn how to cope with difficult emotions, nor how to make appropriate choices without adult intervention. For more on drawbacks and alternatives to authoritarian/strict, rules-based parenting, check out any of Alfie Kohn’s books (Beyond Discipline, Punished By Rewards, or Unconditional Parenting).5
How will your punishment affect your child in 10 weeks?
*When you regularly respond harshly to your child’s behavior, your child will learn to react with fear to your voice, your posture, your words. Instead of trusting that she can come to you with anything, she may learn that it is better to hide, to conceal. Respectful and gentle discipline does more to nurture mutual trust and open communication, even when it is hard.
How will your punishment affect your child in 10 months?
*Sure, you may not think that each individual spanking, each moment you raise your voice can cause harm to your child. But what are the cumulative effects on a child of harsh parenting? Do you regularly threaten, yell at, humiliate, ignore, or blame your child for misbehaving? Would you be surprised to know that the American Medical Association would define that behavior as emotional abuse? “Emotional abuse is the core of all forms of abuse, and the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect in general stem mainly from the emotional aspects of abuse.”6 The long-term effects of corporal punishment (used by a shocking 94% of parents) can include aggression, a decrease in the internalization of rules, antisocial behavior, a lower quality relationship between parents and children, and more.7
How will your punishment affect your child in 10 years?
*That time your two year old colored on the walls with magic markers? In 10 years, that episode will probably be a fond memory of those little hands and a toddler’s sense of wonder. It could be something that you laugh with your child about when he is older. But will your child feel like laughing if your reaction to the markers when he was two years old was to pick him up, haul him off to his room, and spank him?
Sure, you’ll need to scrub (or repaint!) that wall, but you’ll never be able to scrub your child’s memory of hitting him.
One way I am learning to live in the present – consciously, gently, and respectfully – is by looking to the future and remember that childhood is precious and fleeting. Read more in “Learning to Be in the Present By Looking to the Future.”
This post is in response to some of the comments I received on “101 Things to Do Instead of Yelling at or Spanking Your Child.” Several people responded with something like this:
But when children ‘misbehave,’ we must discipline/punish them immediately or else they will:
a) think they can get away with it next time;
b) think they can walk all over us;
c) think we condone it; or
d) forget about it and the discipline won’t be effective later.
I disagree.8 Not only do I believe that children are able to remember behavior for longer periods than we generally give them credit for, but I also believe that the outcome will be more positive for both parent and child if the parent waits on discipline until he or she is calm.9
Do you believe that taking a parental time-out can help in tough situations? Why or why not?
Photo Credit: gsilva
- Thanks to Suzy Welch’s 10-10-10: A Fast and Powerful Way to Get Unstuck in Love, At Work, and with Your Family book for sparking this post idea. ↩
- To read more on assuming bad intentions, read this post from Lauren at Hobo Mama, and my response post that offers tips to help parents assume the best intentions. ↩
- See What’s the Problem with Spanking? ↩
- See Living Peacefully with Children to read more on responding versus reacting. ↩
- For some quick online reads about authoritarian parenting, try Family Matters or Positive Parenting Ally. ↩
- Child Abuse, an Overview ↩
- Corporal Punishment in Children – What Does It Accomplish? ↩
- I disagree for the most part. Yes, when children are doing something that might harm themselves or someone else, immediate intervention is necessary, and often that includes a talk about why the action was dangerous. Do I think that the child also deserves to be screamed at or spanked? No. Harsh punishments will invoke a “fight or flight” or stress reaction in children, and there are much more effective – and gentle – discipline techniques. For example, here is a great list of alternatives to time-outs from Lisa at Gems of Delight. ↩
- And when I say discipline, I’m not talking spanking, time-outs, etc. I’m talking about lovingly interacting with the child in an effort to understand the behavior, make a connection, and be a role model. Remember, to discipline is to teach – would you rather your child’s teacher punish him into subservience, or help him understand lessons through information-sharing and respect? ↩
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"The Power of 10"
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