The last couple of months we have been talking about the ABCDs of parenting as laid out in the 4 Habits of Raising Joy-Filled Kids book. This month we are talking about the “C”, which stands for ‘Correct with Care’. Correcting with care means we connect with our child before we offer correction. In fact, each of the ABCD habits build on each other. We always start with Attunement and meet our kiddos where they are in their feelings. Next we work on Building Bounce and help our kids recover from their big feelings through connecting relationally. After we’ve taken these two steps we are ready to offer correction, and they are in a place where they are much more likely to receive what we have to say.
With infants (a term we use to include toddlers up to the age of 4) most of our time will be spent on steps A and B. As our babies grow into toddlers we will start adding in more correction after the first two steps.
One thing the authors talk about in the book is how children under the age of five do not understand negative commands. They share “If I say, ‘Don’t hit your sister!’ My infant hears, “Blah, blah, blah, hit your sister!’” (page 65). I remember when our boys were little how hard it was to change the way I talked to them and how taxing it was for my brain to come up with a positive version of a correction rather than a negative one. I remember I would catch myself about to say “Don’t!” and I would freeze for a moment because I couldn’t figure out how to say it as a positive statement rather than a negative command. For instance “Don’t climb that” had to become “Let’s stay on the ground”, “Don’t run” became “Let’s walk” and “Don’t hit” became “Let’s have gentle hands.”
When you think about how hard it is for our adult brains to translate a “don’t” command into a positive statement of what we are asking our infant to do, you can better understand why our little ones aren’t able to translate a negative statement.
The other helpful thing about positive statements is that they line up well with identity statements and healthy shame. You might be surprised to see the words “healthy” and “shame” together. Many of us have received toxic shame messages, but healthy shame is intended to be life giving. Shame is the message “I am not glad to be with you”, and this message helps our children learn what is acceptable and life giving and what is not. For instance, if our child is picking his nose, and we respond with a lack of joy, they learn this behavior doesn’t bring others around him joy.
The key with a healthy shame message is conveying that the behavior is the problem rather than the person. An example of a healthy shame message would be “Hitting is not kind, you are a kind boy. Kind boys use gentle hands.” A toxic shame message in response to a child hitting their sister would be “What a bad boy!” In the healthy shame message, we affirm our child’s identity as kind and loving, and invite their behavior to line up with who they are. In the example of the toxic shame message we are telling our child that their identity is a bad boy.
Correcting with care and healthy shame messages go hand in hand as we call out the identity God has put in our child. The value of using the right words is obviously more important as our infants grow into toddlers and then into school age children, but we can practice speaking in identity statements and healthy shame messages at an early age.
For more on correcting with care, check out the new book 4 Habits of Raising Joy-Filled Kids and tune in to the next blog post on how to use correcting with care with our school-age children.0