A group of small school kids with unrecognizable teacher sitting on the floor in class, learning geography.

Connection Before Correction

By Sarah Jeanne Browne

Connection Before Correction is positive discipline that focuses on the power of love over lecturing. Children need to feel like they matter and that their voice is heard. Prioritize the relationship before the redirection. 

This is important because kids develop secure or insecure attachments based on how they are raised. Secure attachments mean that they feel safe, valued and loved in a home so they are able to have a strong self-esteem and self-love. They are also more likely to continue to build healthy relationships mirroring yours with them. Insecure attachments, however, happen where there is a disconnect between parent and child. Insecure attachment follows an unhealthy relationship where they feel unheard. This causes low esteem. 

There are no perfect parents, so there are moments when a parent doesn’t listen to a child or gets frustrated with them, and they make mistakes. In cases such as this, showing that you’re human is how to help them. If you want them to own up to their own mistakes, say things like “I’m sorry” to them too. Explain that if you did something misguided, you will find a way to make it up to them. 

The goal is to make a safe haven for a child to take up space and share their feelings. If you do not show them such kindness, they will go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. This happens as a stress response when we are in danger, and it can last as trauma or PTSD even after the danger has passed. If you trigger their stress response, you become someone to fear rather than go to for help. Creating connections helps kids with the stress response and to manage their emotions. It gives them coping skills. It helps them to feel safe and gives them secure attachment. It lets them know that you care, even if they aren’t perfect. Ultimately, connection is about giving love to a child because at the end of the day, love DOES conquer all. We just have to show up and fight for that to happen. All this is centered around spending time with them and creating a positive, safe environment for them to grow up in. They need to feel like they belong before they will behave.

However, creating connection doesn’t mean passivity or permissiveness in parenting. It doesn’t mean letting them off the hook for misbehaviors or simply ignoring them. Helicopter parenting and overprotection also lead to rebellion, so you want to avoid too much of a step in either direction. There are ways to be kind but firm in positive disciplining such as the following:

  • I love you; AND the answer is no.”
  • “Change how you are doing this, AND you don’t have to be perfect to please me.”
  • “I know you don’t want to, AND we can work through this together.”
  • “I’m sorry you feel sad, AND you still need to listen to me.”

There are 5 ways to create connection. I’ll use the acronym “LOVES” for this.

  1. Listen – Listening creates connection and a safe space to soothe your child. This fosters a positive relationship. Ask them “Why?” they are doing something to delve deeper into their motivation for the misbehavior. Lead them by being curious about how they are feeling. Help them to name their feelings and “use their words.” In other words, “Name it to tame it” method by Dr. Dan Siegel. Watch this video on how to utilize it. This will calm their brain and help them manage their emotions.
  2. Open Up – Quality time should be about sharing yourself with them. Kids also mirror what they see in adults. If you can express yourself, admit mistakes and share your thoughts, they are more likely to reciprocate. Give an example of a time you felt like them or tried to do what they are doing. This will help them see they aren’t alone. Opening up helps them to open up too and to see that no one is perfect.
  3. Validate  – Tell them they are allowed to be upset, but it’s how they handle it that matters. Tell them that you still love and accept them. Tell them what they do right instead of just wrong. Recognize their intention may not be to act out but to be heard. Focus on the positive behaviors before the negative ones. This will help them develop self-compassion when they make mistakes.
  4. Explain – Give them a positive lesson that can impact them in the moment rather than just present the consequences. Explain why their misbehavior is wrong so they understand. Set clear expectations so they know the rules and what to do or not to do and most importantly, WHY. If you can find a way to tell them, “This matters because of this reason,” they will develop stronger reasoning skills and be able to be intrinsically motivated because they know it’s the right thing to do.
  5. Solve Together – You want to do things WITH your child, rather than TO your child. Solving problems together and letting them brainstorm leads them to learn from the situation. Solve by teaching them to have a growth mindset, not a fixed one. This helps them to grow into a problem solver, take on challenges and learn from mistakes. If a child is struggling to solve a problem or do something the way you ask them, give them room to learn their way and on their time. Say, “I like how you solved this differently. We can come up with more ways to do it like that.” Pay attention to how they learn, not shame them or make them feel stupid. It’s not always about willpower, self-belief or intention. Kids have different abilities and limitations, so we have to be open if they grasp something in their own way and own time. This is learning about your child.

Let’s put this into practice!

Example: Olivia refuses to clean her room. 

Don’t say: “You need to clean up right now or you’re in big trouble!”

Do: Listen to her first. Ask her to name what she is feeling instead of reacting to the problem. She says she is feeling “tired.” Open up by saying sometimes you need a break from things, but it always feels better after working for it. Validate how she feels with a kind but firm statement by saying it is okay to feel tired, AND she still needs to put away her toys. Say, “I love you. I am proud of you. You can do this.” These positive affirmations build her up. Give her specific praises for how she is doing, such as “I like that you made your bed today.” Or a character compliment, “You have a good heart.” If she listens to you, say, “Thank you for listening.” It’s also important to relay that the problem you are addressing is the behavior, not the child. You don’t like what she is doing or not doing, but you like her. Focus on the issue, not the child. This impacts her self-worth. Explain that once she puts the toys away, she will rest so much better! It will feel good to get that done. The mess will build up if let go so it will be harder to do later. Solve together by saying “I’ll help you with this. Let’s race!” Turn problems into play. This also makes it fun and develops the relationship as team work. Break down tasks with her; she could just be overwhelmed. “How about we start with this corner of the room and go from there?” Offer help and reward with rest maybe by watching her favorite movie with you!

When you do these steps, you learn how to communicate and what your child needs. You may start by trying to teach them how to do something, but they will end up teaching you about love and life. You help a child by showing you care. Hug them and let them know that no matter how they perform or what they accomplish in life, you are there for them. Quality time together is the best way to create connection, so do things that you both love. Your relationship comes before any reaction to their behavior. So build on that in positive disciplining, and use connection before correction.