Conversation as a Discipline Technique

Conversation About a Very Special Quilt!
Conversation About a Very Special Quilt!

As a child, I was raised in a “children should be seen and not heard” culture, and most of the talking was of the lecture sort, made by a parent, after I’d made my mistake. I was often not permitted to have input.  It is very difficult to know what’s expected of you if you’ve never been told.  I often felt frustrated and invalidated and it left me socially awkward and uncomfortable and more likely to make further mistakes.

As part of leaving this paradigm behind, embracing attachment parenting, and knowing that children understand things long before they can speak, it was important to me to start conversing with my children immediately and I likely appeared pretty odd as I explained to a newborn why I was buying a particular brand of Canadian grown mushrooms.

As I wore them close to me, I continued to carry on a running commentary with them and eventually, as they got older, they started to talk back to me so that we constantly chatted.   It became habit.  Taking a proactive and gentle approach to discipline was important to me and it felt natural that we should talk about everything and anything that came up and often the topics that related to behaviour came up even if the behaviour wasn’t being exhibited by the child (or parent) in the moment.

I realised early on that this was a very powerful discipline technique.  Several times conversations we’ve had on topics have led to amazing behaviour decisions by my children. Even further, it’s led them to become little advisors themselves!

We went to a birthday party on the weekend and a great example of this was exhibited by one of my children. One topic we’ve talked about a lot in our family is hate.  I have talked to the children about it frequently and how it’s a negative emotion and that in all my entire life I’ve never actually truly hated anyone.  We’ve discussed it in the context of racism, of being hurt and we’ve also talked about how it’s overused as a word.  In our house it’s a bad word and they know it can be hurtful to tell someone that you hate them.

On a drive home from the party, as was our habit, I was talking to them about the day. My six year old was telling me that one child told the other that she “hated him” after she took his toy.  I asked my daughter what she thought of that and she replied that she’d told the little girl that “hate is a very strong word.”

Stifling a chuckle I asked her what the other child had said and she replied “she agreed.”

This sort of understanding comes directly from conversation.  My barely six year old daughter was able to, after several conversations on the subject, none recent, apply the information given to her on the topic.  She was able to advise another child confidently of a different way of seeing things and I was very proud of her for doing so.  Discipline is not simply finding a way to stifle negative behaviour; it’s providing children with the ideals we want them to embrace in life. And conversation, not lecturing, is key to them knowing how we feel about issues and concerns.

Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had in my life have been with my children.  They have insights that come from a different perspective. the messages you give them early on will hopefully have an impact on the decisions they make when you’re not in the room.  The added benefit is the time spent talking to your child and, even more important, the time spent listening to what they have to say as well.

Carolyn Parsons is married to Kent Chaffey, has four daughters and is also a writer who blogs at BreezeDaze

11 thoughts on “Conversation as a Discipline Technique”

  1. I love how they internalize the things that they hear us say. One thing I learned early on, like you, is that they understand far more than they let on. And so I do a lot of talking. Sometimes my now 4 1/2-year-old tells me to be quiet, in fact. But that’s fine with me. I would rather err on the side of too much communication than not enough. I believe that sharing my ‘wisdom’ (if you can call it that) before situations arise heads off a lot of problems.

  2. This is a wonderful post – it is so important to remember that parenting our children is a RELATIONSHIP – a two-way street, not just a responsibility to lecture our children. Thanks for this!

  3. This is a good reminder that our kids do listen to us, even when we think they don’t. One conversation starter I’ve been using lately with my 8-year-old, especially when we’re alone, is to say: “Do you have any questions?” She always does.

  4. Thanks for sharing this inspiring post with us…I always find it upsetting that many grown folks will spend time polity and patiently explaining something to a complete stranger, but forget to do this with their children. Having teenagers of my own, I can say that the real payoff of these conversations will come back to bless you in the years to come. I am fortunate to have teens who are thoughtful and (mostly) respectful. Even when I have to say “I can see that the concert is important to you, but going is just out of the question because of x, y, or z” I might get a sigh, even a “That sucks!” but it is almost always followed up with a “But thanks for considering it”

    Keep up the great work, momma!

  5. I also feel that the conversation habits we begin with our children at an early age will reap huge benefits when they are in their teen years and beyond. When talking openly about anything and everything happens naturally in a family, many issues can be resolved even before they start. Thank you for the great post!

  6. I love your post! I often get questions from parents who are wondering how to go from a punishing model of discipline to a positive one, and it can be difficult to put it into words for them to understand — and I understand how difficult it is to learn such a new concept as gentle discipline. But the closest thing I can come up with is, “you just talk.” Your post says it so completely — you involve your children in your day through your interactions and a good part of that is talking to them.

    I do wonder, though, how do your resolve moments when you’re especially angry or disappointed — when you’re tempted to lecture to your child?

  7. I really like your post as it teaches me the importance of having conversations with my kids explaining some vital points. I learned that this is an effective discipline technique. Thanks for sharing. Keep posting!

  8. I could not agree with this post more! Nothing can take the place of talking with your kids and giving them the tools they need to communicate and truelly think through decisions!!

  9. Rita…to answer your question at the end. I believe I do lecture my children on occasion but what’s most important is that that’s not ALL that I do. But even in the “lecture mode” there is a conversation element that is different. They are allowed to question, they are permitted to dissent and they are not expected to be obedient little soldiers. It’s more like a teacher telling what they’ve learned and know to students, rather than an “I’m right, you listen” speech.

    It takes practice and it takes trust(in the child and the method).


  10. Hey
    Thanks Carolyn, for your article. To answer the question on what does one do in a very heated moment, where speaking calmly is impossible for you? What about you, the adult, taking a time out. I’ve used that technique with children 7 and up (not my own) and it seems to work most times. WE can talk better when we are both cool, and we avoid saying or doing things we really would regret.

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