I know it will come as a shock to you: My teenage kids sometimes don’t do what they say they’re going to do.
One recent evening, I asked one of my daughters to finish up the dishes. (My wife and I had already done most of them.)
The next morning, the dirty dishes were still there. I did them. And I didn’t say anything to her.
I chose this path in part because I don’t like conflict. She’s going through a particularly busy period at school. I wanted to cut her a break.
And yet I’m not entirely comfortable with my solution. While I don’t mind taking on more than my share of work when she’s busy, I do want her to pitch in and to follow through on what she says she’s going to do.
Be kind and firm
Recently, I attended a Positive Discipline Association training that gave me a new idea for how to approach moments like these.1 The principle is called “Connection Before Correction,” and it’s useful in all sorts of parenting situations.
The idea is simple: Before correcting your child, take time to connect with him or her.
Help your child accept responsibility
Here’s how I could have applied this approach in the context of the undone dishes. The following morning, with the dishes still in the sink and my daughter arriving in the kitchen, I could have greeted her with a smile and “Good morning!”
“I think you were really busy last night. Stressful times?” I could have said.
My daughter would have responded more or less depending on her mood. Hopefully we would have exchanged some kind words. If she seemed amenable, I might have put my arm around her.
Then — and only then — I could have said, “And the dishes are still here.”
Because I’d taken time to connect, she would have been in a better frame of mind to accept responsibility for the problem, apologize, and finish off those dishes. Or at least she might have been able to calmly explain why she didn’t do them — and still can’t do them now, before school — rather than simply becoming surly and defensive. Either way, we might then have been able to discuss how she could follow through on her commitments.
I’m going to try this the next time a similar situation arises. Based on my experience with the dozen or so scenarios we played out at my recent Positive Discipline Association training, I’m pretty sure it will be an improvement over doing her chores myself.
Tailor positive discipline to your child
“Connection Before Correction” is a core tenet of Positive Discipline.2 Here are some other contexts in which it might work:
- Your three-year-old is failing to get his shoes on in the morning as you’re trying to get out the door. He too busy playing with his blocks. Your response: Take 30 seconds to chat and appreciate the structure he’s just built before dealing with the problem.
- Your eight-year-old is pretending she can’t hear you as you ask her to get ready for bed. She just keeps playing a game. Your response: Ask her, “What are you playing?” before you correct her behavior.
- Your 14-year-old comes home an hour later than he promised to on a Friday night. Your response: Ask him, “What were you and your friends doing? Did you have fun?” before moving on to discuss the problem and imposing consequences.
Connection before correction. Give it a try.
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- The Positive Discipline Association, founded by Jane Nelson, has developed a system to help parents develop a kind and firm parenting style. Their website provides tons of good advice and links to local training classes. A second website provides related books and other products.
- For parents looking for a general introduction to Positive Discipline, I suggest Jane Nelson’s book Positive Discipline.