Is it time to take another look at discipline?
There’s an interesting path of research being explored by scientists, doctors and psychologists, it relates to how we define discipline. They believe we need to reshape our approach and by so doing that we’ll rewire our interactions with our children and the subsequent effects. Our parent/child interactions can have a long term impact; as a therapist I see people, sometimes approaching their twilight years that are still living with the consequences of these interactions. We've accepted that spanking is not an appropriate means of discipline, what if we were to consider forgoing another of the old fall-backs of parenthood i.e. time-outs. What is it that can we do instead to ensure we don’t raise a generation that’s out of control? According to research we’ll do a lot better by first understanding how the mind develops and constructing our strategies accordingly. In the early 1990’s Italian neuro-scientist Rizzolatti researched the relationship between intent and action, during the course of his research he discovered that seeing someone else perform an action fires the brain in the same way as doing it yourself, the term “mirror neurons” was born. Consider this when you think about the behaviours you model for your children, by being more aware of what we’re unconsciously teaching our children we may prevent a lot of problem behaviours occurring in the first place, the old adage “do as I say not as I do” doesn't hold up when you understand how their neural pathways are being laid.
Mirror neurons are thought to be responsible for generating empathy and love,
In Interpersonal Neurobiology the brain is seen as a social organ, an emotional system that develops relationships similar to the system that processes what our eyes see into something meaningful. This school of thought asserts that by our current methods of disciplining we often end up engaging with our child’s limbic system, which then passes an “under threat” signal to the reptilian brain which in turn takes control with its fight or flight response. In other words the child’s inner primitive self, perceiving a threat makes the child behave in a way that it hopes will make it seem bigger and meaner than the threat it perceives you pose. When your child is under the control of their reptilian brain they cannot learn the lesson you are trying to teach them.
So what to do instead?
We know that if a child associates behaviour with a positive result that they are more likely to want to repeat that behaviour. What if instead of engaging in battle with the reptilian brain we try to address the whole brain, including the nervous systems. Clinical Psychiatrist Dan Siegel (who is the forefather of Interpersonal Neurobiology and Director of the Mindsight Institute) suggests that we accept that the most important and effective means of discipline is not “time-out” but “time-in”, the idea is that parents direct attention inwards to explore emotions and help the children become aware of their inner lives, in effect teach your child Mindfulness.
Unlike the isolation strategy of Time-Out, Time-In promotes getting in touch with emotions and communication. This practice of mindfulness can occur throughout the day to subtly build up awareness of the minds state of being. With regular practice the child develops clear emotional maps that they can return to when they need to make sense of a more emotional experience such as disappointment when refused something that they want. The child will be aware of their shift in emotional state and be able to articulate their feelings rather than being swept up in them. This is the foundation for emotional intelligence.
Time-Ins don’t have to be formal, they become a natural part of the day; when something of note happens encourage your child to tell their story of it. This helps them process their emotions e.g. if your child is walking on a wet floor & almost slips they may have experienced fright followed by relief, you might say “I got a fright when you almost fell and I was worried, but your face looked so funny when you saved yourself it made me happy” you can then encourage your child to give their version from their experience, this helps them to identify and understand the emotions they experience, however fleeting. It acknowledges that internal emotions are occurring. By doing this in these low drama moments, it becomes easier to identify and relate in high drama moments because they become more in tune. Naming emotions significantly lessens their impact.
*The power of sitting with emotions
Unacknowledged feelings and emotions can become dark and scary places that lead to coping mechanisms to anaesthetise them such as eating or later in life gambling, smoking, doing drugs, drinking etc. These mechanisms can then even be triggered by positive feelings, because any variation in emotional state for someone not in touch with their feelings may trigger a precautionary impulse to seek their anaesthesia of choice. By taking some time to be mindful and observant we can shine a light into those dark recesses. Instead of relying on punishment we can teach our children to self-regulate, and for those of us that didn't learn this skill growing up we can pick it up in the process and improve our own emotional intelligence.
In my practice I regularly work with people to develop these skills using Hypnotherapy and other Psychotherapy techniques and teaching Self-Hypnosis (particularly to people that find the practice of meditation difficult). Some emotions can be buried deep through suppression and the passage of time, it often isn't necessary to re-live a specific event in order to learn to effectively release and deal with the emotion, seeing the weight lifted from clients as they develop this skill and become empowered by it is one of the most satisfying aspects of my job.
I'm a Melbourne Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist located in Mentone, South East Melbourne. If you'd like further information or would like to book your appointment please call Georgina on 0435 923 817 or use this contact form to get in touch. Skype sessions are available.
* Results may vary
Georgina Mitchell was born in Ireland, moving to Australia in 1989. Georgina spent many years working in senior management in the Corporate world, before leaving to pursue her passion to become a Therapist.
Please note as with all therapies, Results for Therapies delivered by Hypfocus may vary from person to person