If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first three and a half years as a mama is the incredible power of physical touch. In particular, physical touch as it relates to the “connect before you correct” approach to children’s behavior.
Our bodies are powerful tools when it comes to communicating our feelings.
Children are prone to hitting, scratching, flailing, shaking, biting, pulling hair/clothes/jewelry, etc. when they’re upset.
We might then react by hitting, spanking, shaking, or pushing our kids away. Putting them in time out. Sending them to another room. Cutting off our affection because they need to understand the gravity of their actions. To learn their lesson.
I want to take a look at a different approach: Connect before you correct. A huge part of this approach is the use of gentle, soothing physical touch.
Physical touch pulls us out of the intensity of the moment. It brings us together to connect and calm our emotions before addressing whatever the issue is.
Margaret starts throwing a tantrum because she doesn’t want the food I’m giving her for lunch. She’s refusing to get in her chair and insisting I give her something else.
I pick her up, hold her, and hug her for a few seconds. I don’t say anything about what I want her to do. I simply hold her for as long as it takes for her to clam her body.
Once she stops flailing I then explain to her, “This is the food we have made, so you need to eat it today. Would you like it in the green bowl or the orange bowl? (Providing options gives children ownership). Orange? Okay. Would you like me to put you in your chair or would you like to climb in? Climb in? Okay.” Margaret then willingly climbs in her chair and eats her beans, rice, and vegetables. She even says it’s “Yum yum yummy in my tum tum tummy.” (Daniel Tiger, anyone?) 😃
Jeremy and I have been using this approach for a year or so and it works wonderfully. I would say 9 times out of 10 it works to help Margaret calm down so we can handle the situation without out of control tantrums and drama.
Side note: Like most things with our kids, this approach is much more difficult when they’re tired. We must make sure our children are getting adequate sleep between nighttime and naps. Lack of sufficient sleep is one of the biggest contributors misbehavior in children.
Connecting before correcting helps us tune into and release some of the negative emotions we’re feeling. This can prevent us from reacting irrationally to our children’s misbehavior. It also helps keep their emotions from getting out of control.
Simply holding each other can calm down both parent and child. Sometimes it’s as much for our emotional benefit as it is for theirs.
Connecting before correcting helps us be mindful of what we’re feeling and help our children and ourselves deescalate.
So what’s next?
We acknowledge and validate our children’s feelings before we do anything else. As an example, while rubbing our child’s back we may say, “I know you want to play now. I do too. There are so many fun things to do. First, it’s time to go potty.” This way, our children first and foremost feel heard, understood, and cared for. From there, we can move forward with seeking a resolution.
If you tend to jump straight to time-outs, removing privileges, yelling, threatening, spanking, etc., I encourage you to try something different this week. Connect before you correct. It may be a hug, rubbing your child’s back, or even placing a hand on his back or arm. It’s going to be challenging, and it’s going to take a crazy amount of patience on Mom and Dad’s part.
Notice what it does to how you’re feeling. Notice how your child reacts to it. It may be awkward at first, especially if it’s something new and different. It may not work the first time. Or the second time. Or the tenth time. And it won’t work every time. But I strongly believe that if you continue this approach, you’ll begin to see an amazing change in your child’s behavior. This has the potential to radically improve the atmosphere in your home. I’ll even dare to say that it could alter the course of your child’s emotional development and ultimately, her life.
So give it a shot! Then, come back and share your experience in the comment section below!