Many parents worry that they are either too “soft” or too tough on their kids, especially when enforcing discipline or correcting them. It’s a valid concern, especially if you are raising a child with a trauma history or one who has come to your home from a chaotic, dysregulated environment. How do you maintain attachment with your kids even when correcting them?

Today, we’re sharing some creative ideas for creating a culture of connection in your home. We hope these “Big Ideas” translate to tools you can utilize both in the moments of correction and to maintain and deepen understanding and connection in your home.

Big Idea #1: Make Space for Big Feelings.

When everyone feels calm, regulated, and content, work together to set aside a special chair or corner that you label the “think it over” place. Engage with your child in a conversation or two about this as a safe space your child can go to when she feels big feelings coming or when she needs time to take some deep breaths. She can use the space to think about her actions and consider how to choose better next time. If your child is new to your family or very young (early elementary age or younger), carve out a space close to where you regularly carry out your daily activities.

To avoid the perception that this space is where she is “sent away” or punished with isolation, consider how to make it a pleasant, sensory-rich environment that calms and regulates your child. Some families decorate the corner with positive messages, plush pillows, or comforting (even weighted) blankets. My daughter kept a box of fidget toys near her favorite chair.

Before you need it for a moment of re-regulation, consider inviting the child into this space with you to read a book or listen to a relaxing jazz tune together. When things are calm and sweet between you, encourage him to use it whenever he can identify his own big feelings, not just when you have to identify those feelings for him.

Big Idea #2: Offer Choices and Compromises.

When a child feels dysregulation rising, he might think that control is spinning out of his reach. That sensation can be very triggering, so quickly respond to his big feelings as they come on. It often helps our younger kids if you can assign code words to those feelings. When my kids were little, we used the cast of Winnie the Pooh to identify them. Some families use red, yellow, and green like a traffic light system.

When you do catch it, offer him a few choices for handling what is happening inside his brain or body. Keep the choices focused on the circumstance, age-appropriate, and options that you can live with. By offering him some control over his behavior and thoughts, you tell him that his voice matters. Choosing to couch the conversation creatively keeps him engaged and allows you to keep your hearts soft toward each other. That’s the culture of connection you are seeking.

The IDEAL Response pairs well with these creative suggestions!

The conversation might sound something like this:

Hey, I wonder if you are starting to feel some Eeyore coming on. Would you like to swing outside for ten minutes, or would you prefer to jump on the trampoline? When you feel better, we can talk about…

If your two choices don’t seem to catch with your child, ask him if he’d like to try a compromise. Negotiating a compromise together can teach your child how to advocate and negotiate with respect, boundaries, and balance. However, you are still the boss — so keep your goal in mind: connection first, behavior change second! Then you are free to move in your authority without compromising it. Be willing to compromise over HOW that goal is accomplished.

Big Idea #3: Make Correction Sandwiches.

When you must correct your child, start the conversation by naming what she is doing well or what character traits you know she possesses. Layer that positivity with the correction to the specific behavior change that you need. If you catch misbehaviors early and low, you can keep the atmosphere light and keep her heart and mind open to your input. Top off the guidance with praise and acknowledgment of her hard work and desire to succeed. You are sandwiching two positive (and related) statements around the single correction you have in mind to accomplish.

For example, you can try this conversation with an older child,

I know you are a respectful kid who really loves your dad and me. When you roll your eyes at me, I feel disrespected. If you want to talk to me about it, I am confident you have the skills to speak to me with kind words and a respectful tone to do that. Can we try that again?

For your younger children, you will need to shorten the chat considerably. You can try something going through it like this:

Mommy knows you are a kind, respectful kid. But your words and eyes don’t feel respectful right now. Can you try that again with kind words and loving eyes?

Big Idea #4: Maintain a Respectful Atmosphere.

When you offer a child the respect you desire him to offer you and the others in your home, you tell him that he is capable and worthy. Keep using the same language to reinforce your message. It might feel repetitive, but it also is re-wiring the dynamics between you for honor, value, and acceptance. Be sure to offer respect consistently, NOT just when you find you have to correct him. You could try something like this, with an older child:

John, I really appreciated how hard you worked on your chores this morning. I can see a good work ethic growing in you. It’s exciting to watch you become a good man.

Then you can take the seeds of that same conversation and apply them to those moments that you have to correct him. Asking his permission to give input or help also conveys that he deserves your respect:

John, I know how much you want to be a man of excellence, and I respect that about you. Can we talk about something that might help you in that? I noticed something when we cleaned the garage last night together?

You can offer the same conversation to a younger child. Again, use fewer words that are much more concrete and immediate. Because our younger kids need more immediate responses, it’s likely going to feel quite similar to the Correction Sandwiches. But you can do both, with a focus on conveying connection and respect by asking permission to correct him:

Johnny, you are such a hard worker! It makes me think you are trying hard to be like Daddy and that makes me proud. Can I show you a different way to sweep the garage to keep the dust from kicking up all over the shelves we just cleaned?

Establishing and maintaining respect in your home is not just modeled in the words that you all use. Remember that much of our communication is non-verbal! So, try to be mindful of the attitudes, tones, and body language you adults use when interacting with each other. If you can catch disrespect low and in a playful, light-hearted way, you can further reinforce a message of respect for each other.

More tips for Disciplining Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

Creatively Growing a Culture of Connection

When we give our kids the safe space to feel their big feels and guide them through hard moments of correction with respect, we cultivate the sense that we are “on our kids’ side.” If we can find creative ways to name and navigate all the big, good, and challenging feelings, we can keep the culture of connection growing, even when the topics are tough!

Image Credits: Joe Hall; Carrie A.; Rubbermaid Products