Connection Is More Important Than Correction

February 16th, 2011 by Dionna | 19 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, Guest Posts, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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Recently, one of my Facebook readers asked, “Does anyone have any tips for a Nonviolent Communication/Respectful/Positive/etc. approach to helping my 2.5 year old not throw his cup off the table all the time?” Lori Petro from TEACH Through Love1 responded with some incredibly wise thoughts. I’ve taken Lori’s advice, edited/tweaked to add some of my own thoughts, and decided to share it in a post. These suggestions and thoughts can be applied to many situations – not just cup throwing. If you have had similar challenges with your toddler/preschooler and suggestions on how to gently address them, please share in the comments.

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Going For The Cup

Photo credit: MamaT on Flickr

Focus on Needs, Not Behavior

My first thought in response to this question is to investigate and address the need, not the behavior. 2.5 years is still entirely too young to expect compliance without physical help and/or your intervention.

For a 2.5 year old, it is important to “mirror” your child’s emotional reaction in a way that lets him know you hear him. Connection with your child is more important than focusing on “stopping the cup throwing.” So if throwing a cup is the action to accomplish a need – what’s the real need? It could be so many things. Here are some possibilities, along with some suggested responses from the parent:

  1. Attention: “You’re so mad mommy can’t play right now. You’re telling me how mad you are by throwing your things! Mad. Mad. Mad. I hear you.”
  2. Affection: “You are throwing your cup. I see you. Maybe you need some Mommy/Daddy-time, here I come for a hug!”
  3. Autonomy: “You want to do it by yourself. You want to pour your own juice. I understand that. I like to do things all BY MYSELF too!”
    And then let her pour her own juice on a surface that won’t be hurt by a spill – they will only learn to pour with practice!
  4. Play: “You threw your cup again. Was that funny? It sure bounced (spilled, hit the fridge etc). That cup sure went high.”
    “Do you like when mommy makes those funny faces every time?” (imitate yourself becoming impatient – he may find your reactions funny, and that’s why he keeps repeating the behavior)
    And then offer to let him throw cups in the bathtub! Or try another large muscle movement game. Pat from Heal Thyself! had some great suggestions:
    *Throwing is huge fun, so give him something safe to throw and something else to aim toward. We have hung balloons from strings from the ceiling and tossed Nerf balls at them.
    *Tilt a hula hoop against the wall and toss bean bags into it.
    *Lean over the back of a stable chair and drop quarters into a loud metal pan.
    *Give him something to squeeze, like playdough, while he is sitting in his chair.
    *Hold your hands above him, have him jump and touch your hands (adjust the height of your hand to challenge him more or less).
    *Have him spin and jump and move BEFORE long sitting activities.
    *Provide other fidget activities such as stringing large beads, pockets with velcro to open and close, or matching games (put all red objects in one cup, blue in other cup, etc).
    *Basically, embrace the JOY and offer something to do *instead*.

Needs First, Teachable Moments Second

After you acknowledge your child’s need/feelings and your child is responsive, then move to teachable moments.

“When cups fall on the floor, they spill and make a mess, how can we work together to keep your cup on the table?”

“Instead of throwing your cup, let’s throw BALLS!”

“Oops – the cup spilled and made the floor messy, let’s clean it up together!” (Try to model cleaning without expectation of help or without guilting your child into it.)

At 2.5 years, a child’s emotional regulation is facilitated when you acknowledge your child’s feelings – even if he can’t have what he wants. From 0-3 years, when a kid meets with transition or change or obstacles there is often a flooding in their body of BIG feelings. This is not misbehavior, but an inability to resolve the internal conflict alone, and a very real physiological process that happens.

Shaming, blaming, or getting angry with a young child who can’t control his body does not teach her anything. Instead, use the power of empathy to settle her body and mind and help her weather the emotional overwhelm she feels in the moment.

Connection soothes. Focus on building connections!

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Today’s gentle parenting post (#13 in a series) is a parenting question – please leave your own gentle parenting tips and advice in the comments.
If you have a gentle parenting success story or a question on how to gently handle a challenging situation with your toddler or preschooler, please read the contributor guidelines and contact me.

  1. Lori Petro, BS.Ed. is a certified parent educator and the founder of TEACH through Love, a child advocacy organization and educational resource dedicated to making the tools and information necessary for developing healthy, unconditional relationships with children available to everyone.

19 Responses to:
"Connection Is More Important Than Correction"

  1. Such an important thing to remember! It is too easy to respond to the behavior but leave the child’s needs unmet.

    I find that prompting connection throughout the day lessens the need for my little one to cause chaos. Physical proximity is obviously helpful – babywearing, breastfeeding and co-sleeping are all wonderful ways to incorporate connection into daily life.

    A smile goes a long way, too. When Bubbadoo toddles into the room, I give him a huge grin to show how happy I am to see him.

    • Amie @ Baby in Bliss   babyinbliss

      @milkymumma
      We just don’t smile enough, I think. One of the simplest moves, muscularly. And one of the most inspiring, calming, communicative, connecting. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Amie @ Baby in Bliss   babyinbliss

    Dionna, Thank you so much for this post.
    I find one of the most important things I can do for my daughter is to have an open-ended, two-way, age-appropriate conversation with her before every new activity. We talk about what we are about to do (ensuring she understands), what is expected of her (providing guidelines for safety and respect), what will be fun to anticipate (friends she’ll know, familiarities, and new things), and where I will be in the activity (especially when she began preschool where I dropped her off). This conversation can be very quick (like a reminder) or a few conversations across a few days for upcoming very big or very long events (like my friend’s wedding and reception a few months ago). We started this when she was about 18 months old. The activity becomes enjoyable for all. Does anyone else do this?

  3. Compassion for self is key. If we were not taught how to deal with our feelings when were young, those feelings can be re-triggered when we have kids later in life, and the part that didn’t receive compassion long ago will try crying louder than our children, so first compassion for self and then we can know how to do it for them!

  4. This post has some really great examples of how to better respond to tricky toddler behaviors. I keep trying to assist my husband in these sorts of methods but he is awfully resilent as he was not raised this way (like I was). After reading this post, I had a great idea to print out the examples mentioned and glue them onto index cards. I will leave them around the house for my husband to read. He often times responds better when parenting suggestions come from someone other than me! :) Although he tries hard, another voice giving him some tips and advice is always helpful! Thanks for another great post Dionna!

  5. teresa   momgrooves

    I deeply agree with this. I really tried with my daughter. She’s 3 1/2 now and it’s a bit different. I see that I need to help her by having more boundaries and gently letting her discover ways to soothe herself. This is much harder for me, but I know she needs it.
    Most of the ideas are still the same at this age, but there’s just another thing happening at the same time.

  6. janetlansbury   janetlansbury

    Tigri’s comment is something I think about often and totally agree with. And once we calm ourselves in a situation like this one (because we DEFINITELY don’t want to shame, blame or get angry), I agree that our child needs us to connect. But at this point you lose me a little, because rather than playing games or trying to act upbeat when we are at least a little annoyed, I believe that children want and need us to be ourselves — honest and direct.

    Do you honestly think a 2 year old who repeatedly throws his cup is just playing? I think children are much smarter than that. I believe the 2 year old has known for a LONG time that throwing a cup is not something you want him to do. I think he’s asking for attention and also some clear guidance. What’s mommy going to do about it? Then he needs to know that we are going to be calm and kind, but not allow him to do those things.

    I believe that it helps to make meal times attentive “together” times as much as possible, beginning with quiet, intimate breast or bottle feedings, transitioning to toddlers needing one-on-one attention while they eat, and ending with family dinners.

    Then, if we’re paying attention and our child throws a cup, he is expressing two things, in my opinion… 1) I’m not very interested in eating or drinking anymore; and 2)I need you to calmly and gently tell me you don’t want me to throw the cup. And if I do it again, you will just as calmly stop me by removing the cup and then probably ending the meal.

    I can appreciate pondering our child’s possible motivations and unmet needs, but when dealing in the moment with toddlers, I believe in keeping it simple and real. Simplicity makes our expectations clearer for our toddlers, too.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I do think a child who throws his cup could have a need for play. You pegged it when you said he might be asking for attention – what if the attention he’s needing is some playful interaction? What if that child does not have many play opportunities with his parent – what if he has two parents who work full time outside the home, and they just haven’t had a chance to really get down on the floor and play with him? What if he is using any means possible to fulfill that need?

      I believe that the parent could gracefully transition the play from the table (where play isn’t necessarily appropriate) to another venue (let’s go throw balls!) – especially if it’s clear that the child is done eating.

      I definitely understand what you mean about keeping things simple and real in the moment. But if a mama has been dealing with cup throwing for awhile by calmly and gently picking it back up, I can appreciate trying new things/examining other possible needs. In practice, I personally lean more toward the “pick the cup up, make a short statement about keeping the cup on the table,” but I did not deal with this particular problem. For other problems that we have had, I’ve tried NUMEROUS ways of dealing with tough toddler behavior – teeth brushing for example. Parents can’t expect to just gently and firmly brush a toddler’s teeth every morning and night and never encounter resistance. Playfulness and other alternatives have their places!

      Thanks for making me think, as usual Janet :)

      • janetlansbury   janetlansbury

        I agree about playfulness having it’s place, for sure. And, yes, teeth brushing is a good example! (Never something I had a talent for.) But generally, I think toddlers are asking for clarity. They take great comfort in knowing the house rules and being assured that we’ll respond in a consistent way.

        The attention a child seeks when he throws a cup at mealtime is a very specific kind of attention (in my opinion)…a request for boundaries. And especially if a parent’s been working all day (and is tired, and really just wants to have fun with her child at the end of the day) the child needs to be certain he’ll still get those boundaries.

        Then when mealtime is over, then let the games begin!
        Dionna, thanks for getting ME thinking!

    • Katie

      I could not agree more Janet! simple and real! I love all of the suggestions in this article but I do not like over thinking my every move on a daily or hourly basis. I feel that following our instincts, being kind, and real and simple is the only things that really works for me.

  7. Tat   muminsearch

    I am having the same issues with my daughter throwing everything. I think for her it’s just fun, so I’ll start with the suggestions to throw balls instead. I hope it works, thanks for the tips.

  8. Sarah MacLaughlin   sarahmaclaugh

    YES! These are excellent tips. Very well put!

  9. Kate

    It’s funny because I was just having this conversation with my mom this afternoon. My son is 21 months old and was running around the kitchen throwing everything from his play kitchen on the floor. It was quite noisy sine the toys are mostly wooden or metal and the floor is hardwood and my mom kept saying “Why is he doing that?” Admittedly I’m not 100% sure but I get the impression from him that he does it because it’s fun and he likes the noise. The same thing happened when we went into the playroom. I was trying to tidy up a little and he kept going behind me and un-doing what I was doing.

    Sometimes he does throw things because he’s mad or he’s tired (we call this random destruction mode) but mostly he just likes to throw things.

  10. MomAgain@40   karentoittoit

    Thanks for this post. My husband and I just had a conversation where he called our tot “naughty”, but I told him that he must think about the reasons behind the behaviour. It helped to calm the situation!

  11. Kim

    Thanks the post, I especially found the 4 examples of what needs could be behind the behavior helpful.

  12. You offer a lot of great suggestions of things to try. In my experience, I’ve always used a natural consequence, such as not giving them the cup back or having them clean up the spill (obviously they won’t do a perfect job, but just the attempt and the act of taking responsibility for a spilled drink).

  13. Zoey @ Good Goog   goodgoogs

    A change in attitude to supposedly ‘bad’ behaviour can make such a huge difference! At the end of the day how I choose to perceive something is a big influence on my peace of mind!

  14. cassondra law   sondramama

    my son is 4 and when he wants attention / hugs, he starts to throw things. not like a cup, but a pencil on the coffee table over and over.
    i totally agree. you have to figure out WHY they are doing the behavior.

  15. Lori Petro   TEACHthruLove

    Great post Dionna! Thanks for including my contribution!
    -Lori @ TEACH through Love

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