Connection Before Correction: It’s a big deal!
Connection Before Correction is a big deal nowadays. When I Google it, I got 155 million hits!! Connection has gotten a lot of attention in the parenting space for a few reasons: First, parents want to move away from old-school, do-it-because-I said-so parenting: They want to parent without being punitive, and they want their discipline to be POSITIVE. Along the same lines, parents want to be sure kids are getting the nurturing and care they need. And they know that kids NEED connection to feel safe, and thrive. Kids need to have a positive connection with their parents. And last but not least, on the flip side, parents know that if kids DON’T have Connection, they won’t thrive and they won’t feel safe.
Now, of course it’s true that kids need Connection. And it makes sense to assume that if kids aren’t getting what they need, this can have a negative impact on their behavior. This is a logical assumption. The problem is, parents and parenting experts have jumped to the wrong conclusion.
But we’ve reached the wrong conclusion:
Specifically, parents and parenting experts have taken what we KNOW about Connection – that a lack of connection can play a part in bad behavior – and based on that knowledge, they’ve come to the conclusion that 1) kids misbehave because they don’t feel Connected, which means they don’t feel safe – so they act out in a fight-or flight response. And 2) if you DO Connect, kids won’t act out.
So let me give you some examples:
First, here’s a quote from the founder of Positive Discipline, Dr. Jane Nelson. Dr. Nelson taught that “When children feel a connection … often that is enough for misbehavior to stop.” In other words, the positive parenting movement was FOUNDED on the belief that connection is the main thing you need to solve kids’ problem behavior!
And that belief has only gained momentum over time. As a more current example, Peaceful Parenting coaches promise us that “A Connected child is a child who WANTS to cooperate.” And a therapeutic parenting expert gives us this strategy to use when kids aren’t behaving: “Hold their heart as the most important thing in the room. Your child can do what you asked later.”
If you Google it, you can see that quite a lot of people agree with this parenting expert: When kids misbehave, Connect INSTEAD of Correct. When I Googled “Connection over Correction” – in other words, Connect, don’t Correct – I get 141 million hits! Most parenting experts do give lip service to the idea that Connection before Correction does not mean you can’t set limits. The problem is, these same experts are ALSO sending the message that Connection means you don’t NEED to set limits.
Connection: It doesn’t solve oppositional behavior!
Now: I agree that it’s really important to connect with our kids. I agree that kids need connection to feel safe and to thrive. And I also agree that it’s easier to influence someone if we have a connection with them. On the other hand, just because Connection affects behavior, does not mean that it causes children to listen – nor does it mean that kids don’t listen because they don’t have Connection.
In fact, if you have a strong-willed, oppositional or defiant kid, most of the time Connection does NOTHING to get them to listen.
But what is it with strong-willed kids? Why do I say that Connection won’t solve oppositional or defiant behavior?
Well, for one thing, I see this all the time in my coaching practice, and I see it all over the parenting forums: Connection isn’t making the strong-willed, oppositional or defiant kids more cooperative – and parents of these kids are wondering what they’re doing wrong. Also, as a child behavior expert, I know that many things shape kids’ behavior; and when kids misbehave, it isn’t necessarily because they don’t feel safe, and it isn’t necessarily because they don’t feel Connected.
Kids’ behavior: A lot of it is Temperament!
And as it turns out, one of the things that plays a big part in a child’s behavior is their Temperament! So, real quick, what is Temperament?
Temperament is a lot like personality. It’s something we’re born with, it actually has a strong genetic component, and temperament traits are qualities like introversion and extroversion, or high frustration tolerance and low frustration tolerance. Feeling things intensely is a temperament trait, and so is adaptability.
You know what else is a temperament trait? Our orientation toward autonomy, self-determination and Control. And as it turns out, strong-willed, oppositional and defiant kids have a very high need for autonomy, self-determination and Control:
- They place a high value on their own opinion and their own point of view.
- They are not natural followers and they are not natural people-pleasers – if you disapprove of what they’re doing, they’re not going to change their behavior just to get your approval.
- And they are obsessed with Control.
All this means that, sure, strong-willed kids NEED Connection, and at the same time, having things their way, is really, really important. And they’re not going give that up no matter how great your connection is!
“We TRY to Connect, but…”
Just last week I got an email from a mom who said, “We try to be as calm as possible until it gets to the point where we blow up because we’re just so frustrated by the lack of compliance. We feel like we have to ask our son over and over to do simple tasks like get dressed or brush teeth. and we end up doing things for him due to time crunches. It’s a tough and exhausting space to be in.”
Another parent told me in a phone call, “I have taken a parenting course that focuses on connection. I believe in that, but we are struggling to maintain certain expectations. We have to be continuously engaged in “filling his bucket,” – doing only the things he wants to do – otherwise he acts out, sometimes hurting his little brother.”
Another parent who emailed me said, “Things are escalating and the positive parenting approaches I have been trying seem to be making things worse. She is more controlling, not less. The environment is more disruptive, not less. I need someone who gets my kids and can tell me what I’m supposed to be doing.”
And some kids just mock and make fun when their parents try to connect! I remember one of my clients, 8-year-old Raven. Raven just made fun of her mom. When her mom got down to Raven’s level and tried to really connect with her before she asked her to do something, Raven went, Coneecccctionnnn. Coneecccctionnnn. Oh, you’re trying to coneecccct with me. I don’t care. You’re a stupid and I’m going to do whatever I want.”
There are a lot of reasons for problem behavior — and there are tools that work with strong-willed kids!
I teach Connection to the parents in my coaching practice because kids NEED you to Connect with them. But there are a lot of reasons for problem behavior. And I’m convinced that if you love your kids, you’re sensitive to their needs, and you’re intentional about nurturing them – then the child’s problem behavior is not caused by a LACK of Connection.
Strong-willed, oppositional and defiant kids are not natural people-pleasers and they have a very high need for autonomy, self-determination, and Control. In other words, strong-willed kids aren’t not listening because they don’t feel safe: They’re not listening because they want things their way!!
So if you have the kind of kid who’s even more willing to follow you when you’re really Connecting, that’s great. But you have a strong-willed kid who’s NOT inspired by Connection, it’s not your fault! Connection IS essential, so DO continue to Connect with your child – but don’t beat yourself up when your child isn’t listening – and don’t give up! Connection alone won’t get your strong-willed kid to listen, but there are tools that will!
Do you want to know what these tools are? Stay tuned! I share these tools in another blog. In the meantime, do you know anyone who needs to hear this message? Share this blog with them!