Connect Before You Correct is a catchy principle for reducing stress in your relationship with your child.
There are lots of reasons you may need to “correct” your child, and you want these important times to go as smoothly as possible.
In these cases, you have something to communicate to your child that they may not want to hear. What you have to say goes counter to their current experience.
Many common discipline techniques are about putting your child down. But even if you don’t punish, belittle, or shame there are other pitfalls. You may have a knee-jerk reaction of demanding change and “laying down the law.”
Raising your voice or making abrupt declarative statements will put your child in a defensive state. When you feel annoyed or angry and your child feels distressed, it’s not possible for the two of you to communicate in a meaningful way.
Requesting a different activity from your child – “correcting” them – is about teaching them something. People can’t learn when they are scared, defensive, angry, or confused.
“You can’t teach children to do better by making them feel worse,” is a great quote from Pam Leo. If you both feel terrible at the end of the interaction, something has gone terribly wrong.
Instead, at the end you should both feel connected. Your child should feel supported and accepted, even if you were having a strong disagreement.
When you approach your child from a center of calm connection you will be better able to get your message across.
Make it a mantra: Connect Before You Correct.
There are three layers of connection in your parenting relationship. There’s your Core Connection, your Connection Continuity, and the Connection of Now.
(Read about all three layers in The Three Layers of Parenting With Connection.)
Today we’re talking about the Connection of Now – the connection you make inside a particular moment. If you need to correct your child, this connected moment sets the stage for the difficult conversation.
Making a Connection of Now has three steps.
First, connection involves physical presence. Move to stand or sit closer. Sometimes you yell just because you are too far away. Moving closer makes it easier to speak calmly.
With smaller children start by getting down to their eye level.
Connection can be physical touch such as a hand on their shoulder or a hug.
As you are trying this first step of physical closeness, be gentle with yourself. Instead of admonishing yourself with “don’t yell”, try a positive reminder like “move closer”.
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Next, connection is tuning in to where your child is mentally. You want to understand where their head is, what they’re getting out of their activity, and what their motivations are.
Whatever is going on, there’s a reason your child is doing it. Connecting with that motive is a great place to start.
When your young child has thrown or broken an item, you might share in their delight at the drama of the situation. When addressing a teen who was out past curfew, you might laugh as they share any antics they got up to.
When you tune into your child’s experience, make an honest offering of understanding. If you’re thinking of this part as a stepping stone to getting your way, you are not connected. Take as much time as you need to understand where your child is before turning your attention back to the part that you didn’t like.
If you’re confused about their motivation, you’ll want to find out information about the situation before jumping to a conclusion. Be curious. Your child may believe that they are helping, or they may have an altruistic reason for doing what they’re doing. If you jump straight to admonishment, you might squash their good intentions. Connect with those good intentions before suggesting alternatives.
Connection can involve sharing something of yourself. You can share a time that you felt or acted similarly, which is especially valuable when addressing a moral concern. I remember when I took something from a store once when I was a child. It felt exciting to do it, but later I felt guilty and embarrassed. Share your story and your emotions in a way that offers your authentic experience.
Can you imagine being engrossed in something really fun and then a big, boring, angry person comes along and wants to rain all over your parade? Even if they have important information to convey, it might take you a minute to come around.
When your kid is fully engaged in their own situation, they also need a minute. Sometimes a lot of minutes! You’re going to want to slow down the pace of your judgment, criticism, or correction. Sync up with your child’s rhythm, and find a way to transition together.
With a young child, this might mean playing together with them for a few minutes before redirecting them away from their activity. For a teen it might mean leaving big spaces, hours or days even, in between uncomfortable conversations so that everyone has time to process.
The main goal of connection is to bring you and your child into a partnership of cooperative thinking. Yelling, making declarations, and jumping to conclusions before communicating creates a battle between adversaries. Taking a few minutes for connection honors your supportive, nurturing relationship.
Being in a family together can bring lots of “correction”, and it’s not possible to avoid that. Family brings together different people with varying goals, needs, feelings, and preferences. As the parent of a child there are lots of ideas you want to pass onto your child and ways you want to help them learn how to navigate the world. It can be easy to lose your relationship in all the clashes that arise.
Remembering to connect first can make all the difference.
Connect before you correct!
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