Your child looks you straight in the eye, almost taunting you, and then blatantly disobeys you seconds after you just told him not to do something for a least the third time. His look seems to say, “Now what are you going to do?”
You are fuming, inside and out. Furious. How dare he deliberately disobey you? How dare he be so rude, so disrespectful. Now you are going to make sure he knows who is boss. You let out a torrent of words telling him that he is grounded and that the outing he was looking forward to is not going to happen. There is no way you are going to let someone who is so disrespectful go; besides he does not even deserve it.
If we are honest with ourselves, our instinctive response to disobedient behaviour is to inflict punishment, to let the other know that they have crossed the line and now they have to pay. We want them to experience the impact of what they have done. The line of least resistance is punitive.
Kim Golding is a psychologist and DDP certified trainer, consultant and practitioner who has created what she calls “Parenting in the Moment,” based on Dan Hughes’ Dyadic Developmental Practice, an attachment focused model. Rather than taking the line of least resistance, she would have us consider a more circuitous route. Rather than a line directly to punishment, a circle.
A circle creates space.
Kim’s “Parenting in the Moment” involves seven steps.
First we are asked to take notice. What has happened? Do we need to step in immediately to ensure everyone’s safety?
If safety is not paramount then we can move to the next step to check our own response as the adult. What is the impact on me? Am I regulated? Can I remain in an “open and engaged” posture?
From there we move to determining where to start with the child. As the adult we need to determine whether the child needs to be regulated or is able to reflect on what happened with our help.
Once the child is regulated we then, as the adult, shift to a curious posture and show true interest through tentative questioning and exploration asking questions such as, “I wonder what’s going on…?
As the adult we then continue to explore and connect with the child using an attitude of acceptance and empathy as together we try to make sense of what has happened.
We then move to step six where we respond to the behaviour. This is a time when we determine what kind of follow through needs to happen. Do we need to do some problem solving? Does there need to be a consequence?
And then we move to the final crucial step, relationship repair. As an adult it is our responsibility to ensure that the child knows that what has happened has not affected our relationship with the child. We still unconditionally love the child and want them to be assured of this. In this final step we may also need to help the child repair a relationship with others.
There are seven steps but as parents and adults our tendency is to go straight from step one, noticing what has happened, to step six, deciding on a follow up to the behaviour, a “punishment.” In doing so we miss all the opportunities to build connections and all the rich nuances we would gather by taking the circular route.
After an incident or behaviour occurs, it is important to pause, to be aware of what is going on in ourselves and for the child. Co-regulation takes priority. If we want to help our child regulate, we need to be regulated ourselves and we need to be able to develop and maintain an open and engaged posture.
The circular route is the more effective and efficient route, surpassing the punitive line of least resistance. The circular route allows space for connection, correction and restoration. It works to build bridges and to maintain and grow attachment, creating a secure and safe space for our child, a space where relationship can flourish.