My Child Does Not Respond to Discipline


My Child Does Not Respond to “Discipline”

Is your child one that does not respond to traditional means of “discipline”?  The traditional behavior modification plans such as stickers and stars, card flipping, clipping down, grounding, and revoking of privileges is not effective for all children.   In fact, let’s stop for a minute and instead of calling it “discipline” let’s call “rewards and consequences”.  Discipline means to teach.  Often, we resort to punishment, or imposed consequences and rewards in hopes of teaching, but there are many ways to teach a child outside of the paradigm of punishment or consequences and rewards.

Many times, therapists, teachers and other professionals will blame parents, accusing them of not being consistent enough, or not being firm enough.  Instead of offering a different model of parenting, they encourage you to do more consequences, more rewards, more punishment, with more consistency and intensity.  They convey that the model works, it’s just that parents are not applying properly, when in fact for some children, imposed consequences and rewards, and punishment triggers the very behavior we are hoping to reduce or extinguish. Yes, the very things you are doing to try and stop a particular behavior, may in fact be what is causing it.

Children who have experienced pre-birth and early life trauma often experience a higher level of sensitivity to their environment.  Their brains are more stress sensitive.  Neuroscience demonstrates that some children, particularly children who have experienced in utero trauma in the last trimester, and trauma during their 0-5 ages have a more sensitive amygdala.  The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for sensing threat and distress.  In the mind body system, the chemicals expressed in times of excitement are the same as the chemicals expressed in times of fear.  When rewards and consequences are posed it creates an energy that they have difficulty containing. When we offer little ones a reward for good behavior they often get so excited and eager that they “pop”.  In their mind body system they are not able to contain the energy of excitement.

Imagine this,  your child is sitting in class and the teacher explains that if they have 3 green light days they can get a prize from the treasure chest.  For our children just the word “treasure chest” may be enough to get their brains hyperactivated with excitement.  So there your child is with visions of jewels streaming from their fingers, while the teachers has continued to explain the requirements of getting this reward.  In the meantime, your child is about to pop with the excitement of seeing themselves on the cover of Forbes magazine as the richest 8-year-old in the world.

As you can imagine, your child gets called down for the excited behavior.  It doesn’t take too many of these situations for a child to begin to believe that they will never obtain the holy grail of the treasure chest.  They quickly feel defeated and excluded.  The reward is out of their grasp.  All too often children who experience this defeat become bitter.  They see through the thin veil of manipulation and bribery that is at the heart of these kinds of behavior modification attempts.  These children respond better to relationship based teaching and parenting.

There is another way.  When we focus more on helping a child be calm and emotionally regulated at the brain level we are impacting over all brain development.  Behavior is a communication of the internal state.  If we focus more on connecting with our children, calming the internal state, the behavior will follow suit.