Kids Do Better When They Feel Better

One of the basic ideas of the Positive Discipline approach is that children do better when they feel better. Often when parents and caregivers hear that, their first response is “I don’t want him to feel better when he’s behaving badly. I want him to know what he’s doing is wrong.” And that makes sense. Except that it’s missing the point. Helping a child feel better isn’t the same thing as telling him his misbehavior is OK. It’s saying I love you, I support you, and now let’s talk about what happened and how you can do it differently the next time.

This concept of doing better when feeling better doesn’t just apply to kids. It applies to adults too. Imagine this: you’re having a super stressful day and it seems like everything that can go wrong is going wrong. You have a big project due at 2 PM and you’re putting all your time and energy into getting it done. In the rush, you completely forget you promised your boss you’d review a proposal he wrote and get it back to him by lunch time. He comes into your office at 3 and suddenly you realize that you’ve messed up. Which would be better, A or B?

A: Your boss, standing with his arms crossed and giving you “the look”, is clearly upset. He curtly says that you know the rules, he expected more from you and he wants you to stay in your office and think about what you’ve done. When you’re ready to apologize and act like a responsible employee, you can come see him. He turns and leaves.

B. Your boss pulls up a chair and sits down to talk with you eye to eye. He says that he was expecting the proposal and your notes around lunch time. He asks “What happened?” You can tell by his tone and body language that he genuinely wants to understand. You explain that today was really stressful and you were completely focused on the project deadline. You simply forgot about your promise to him. Ah, he gets it. He thanks you for putting 110% into the project. It was important to the company and he knows you did a great job with your part. He then asks how you two can avoid situations like this in the future. You work on a lot of big projects but small tasks like reviewing proposals are important too. You work together to come up with a schedule so on days when big projects are due, you don’t have any other deadlines to make. You can focus completely on the task at hand. Finally he asks when you can get him your notes on the proposal and you assure him he’ll have them by the end of the day.

Which one of these 2 reactions is going to motivate you to do better?

Kids do better when they feel better. So the next time you’re dealing with a challenging behavior, connect with your child. Ask questions. Find out how he feels. Then help him develop the skills he needs to do it differently the next time.

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