Connection is Key

November 9, 2011 at 5:48 am (Attachment Parenting, Positive Discipline)

Connect, then correct. Collect, then redirect. Connection before correction. It’s been said various ways by many parenting professionals, and for good reason. The key to successful, long-term discipline is having a close relationship with an authority figure.

This is where parenting begins.

When children are having behavior problems, parents frequently want to know, “What should I do?” They turn to books, friends, articles, and classes to find new tools to get their child’s difficult behavior to stop. They want something to do about it; to be able to articulate a concrete plan for changing the situation. But what parents need to understand is that the tools are secondary to the relationship.

The relationship of the child to the parent is the foundation for all “good” behavior. Children inherently want to behave well for those to whom they are emotionally connected. Without a strong attachment, there is no desire to be like, please, take direction from, or otherwise follow a parent’s lead.

What this means for parents in regard to getting through our kids’ difficult phases of behavior is that we must focus on connecting to them–building a closer, stronger relationship–before we focus on what tools to use. It needs to be ongoing, and it needs to be the first thing considered when responding to a behavioral situation. Before asking, “What should I do?” we need to ask, “How is our relationship? Am I emotionally available? Does my child feel connected to me?” When we address the relationship first, all of the “logistics” of discipline are infinitely more successful.

Responding to misbehavior with discipline that is strictly outcome-based is like treating strep throat with lozenges and sprays. What we really need is to get at the source of the problem; antibiotics for strep, emotional connection for discipline.

The beauty of non-punitive parenting tools is that just by using them, we are strengthening the connection between ourselves and our children. That’s why they work. They use empathy, respect, and communication to bring our children closer to us. Our attachment grows stronger, and our children understand our love and presence for them; they want to behave differently for us. Every disciplinary situation resolved with positive parenting tools versus punitive ones (like yelling, threatening, spanking, removing privileges, manipulation, or strict control) is a chance to develop a closer relationship.

A parent-child relationship based on closeness, love, cooperation, and respect rather than distance, fear, control, and dominance ensures healthy emotional development. This relationship is key. It sets a child up for a lifetime of success in all relationships they’ll have and decisions they’ll make.

Here are my favorite ways to work with kids to solve behavior issues and strengthen our relationship:

ListenThis might be the biggest and best action for building connection, and the first step in responding to misbehavior. Hear them out. Don’t make assumptions, don’t interrupt, don’t do something else at the same time. Refelct their feelings without simply saying, “I know.” Prove that you heard what they said and how they feel by repeating it. Ask questions: “What happened then? How did you feel? What bothers you most about it? ” Children will listen after they feel listened to.

Focus on solutions together: Blaming and shaming damage a relationship and waste time. Focusing on how to solve a problem together invites cooperation and respect. “Our mornings seem to be pretty rushed and stressful. What ideas do you have for getting things done more smoothly? What is the hardest for you? What would help?”

Do special time: Dedicate uninterrupted time with our children every day. We get to know them, and they get to feel known and valued (more closely bonded with us).

Show faith: Have confidence in kids to make their own decisions, fix their own mistakes, and accomplish their own goals. A child might make different choices than a parent would, but parents’ faith in children generates confidence in the kids and trust between both parties.

Make mistakes: Allowing and accepting mistakes facilitates trust. It lets kids know they can trust us enough to come to us with their mistakes, and they don’t ever have to hide them. Mistakes are OK, and we’re here to help.

Kindness and firmnessEnsuring that our guidance is given with kindness and firmness reaffirms that we are authoritative figures (firmness) who love them (kindness). “It’s time to brush your teeth, let’s do it together.”

Positive time out: Helping children find time and space to calm down when they’re upset demonstrates respect for their feelings. With positive time outs (taken on the child’s terms, as opposed to punitive ones which are administered on the parent’s terms), parents communicate, “I want to you to feel better, not worse.”

Family meetings: These let children know their thoughts matter. They have an important voice in the family and everyone values what they have to say. Regular family meetings also express to children trust in helping to solve family problems.

Hug: Not just hugging, but any kind of positive, physical touch helps connect parents and kids. Every touch, pat, massage, hair stroke, squeeze, hand hold, or full body bear hug is a physical reminder that, “I love you and I’m here–right here–for you.” Do this often.

Encouragement, not praiseFocusing on their efforts rather than the outcome shows children that we value who they are internally, rather than simply what they can do or give us. “Wow, you sure didn’t give up during that game!” (instead of, “You won your game, good job!”)

Connect eye-to-eye: Getting down to a child’s level to talk to them is respectful and shows that we value them (rather than standing over them looking down, demonstrating that they are literally under us.)

Empower: Sharing control with kids (as opposed to having control over them) helps them develop their own skills. It lets them know that we trust their judgment. “It seems that there are a few options to solve this problem. I feel confident you’ll figure out what’s best.”

Validate feelingsWhen kids know that their feelings are acceptable, they’re OK to move on to solutions. Empathy communicates understanding, and children who feel understood feel securely attached.

Compliments/ appreciations: Letting kids know what we appreciate about them or their actions helps bring us closer together. They love that we recognize their goodness, and they feel pride in themselves. “I appreciate you letting your sister play with that toy this morning. I know it’s yours, but she really enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing it!”

Recovery: Recovering from our own mistakes is important for letting kids know that we do want to be the best parent we can for them. What better way to tell them how important their feelings are to us than with heartfelt apology for our mistake, and an offer to work on a cooperative, respectful solution.

When our child’s connection to us is strong, these positive discipline tools work beautifully. If our connection has slipped away from what it could be, these tools help get it back and help guide our kids’ behavior. When we aim for closeness and understanding first, kids are much more receptive to loving guidance.


  1. Jane Nelsen said,

    Another great post, Kelly. Your elegant writing style and excellent information will help many parents. 🙂 Jane Nelsen

    • Gayle Holten said,

      I read your work some years ago (mine are 27, 29, 37) and knew immediately I had found someone who affirmed my desires/beliefs. I (hardly) never looked back. Thank you for taking it out of the realm of “I have to make you feel worse in order to get you to behave better.” Let me tell you – all three are now capable and loving people. Makes me wish I had had a dozen more! I’ve been teaching and writing on parenting education for over 25 years now and this is the only philosophy I can promote. Again, thank you Jane.

  2. C Rector Monnet, Positive Discipline Educator in Paris, France said,

    Thanks so much for summarizing Positive Discipline in such a succinct manner.

    • aurelia said,

      je suis une maman à Paris. Comment puis-je vous contacter?

  3. Annie Hawkinson said,

    Great Post! Connection is so important for all relationships. When you take the time to really connect with your kids it’s a win win for both of you! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. Sarah said,

    THANK YOU for this blog!!

  5. amandasworldofmotherhood said,

    This is really great. I need to print it out and put it on the fridge. I have been having a hard time, with my almost 3 yr old, lately. Sometimes it is hard to remember to take a breath when he asks for something from the kitchen and then grabs the cell phone and runs off with it the second you get up(for like the thousandth time. . .).
    Thank you!

  6. Kelly said,

    Thank you, everyone, for your kind words of support!

  7. Desiree said,

    My kinda and I have this connection…but I think I could use some of these tips with my husband 😛

  8. Helene (@Babushelene) said,

    Love the article. The true meaning of discipline is “to teach.”

  9. Melissa Kent said,

    So true. I am having some troubles with my 4yo son’s behaviour at the moment, and I read where you said “is your relationship intact/are you emotionally available?”, and the honest answer is “no” – not as well as I could be and have been. I need to refocus and reconnect. Thank you 🙂

  10. Mikaela said,

    Wow, I really needed to read that. Thank you! 🙂

  11. Gayle Holten said,

    This article just about sums up a philosophy for giving your children roots and wings. Don’t second guess it – practice it. It works. You’ll never hear yourself say “darn, wish I had punished them more.”

  12. Hands Free Mama said,

    I love this. Your list is of ways to connect / strengthen relationships is wonderful. I was a special education teacher for 10 years and I worked with children that had severe behavior issues.Forming a bond was the first and most important thing I did with them before addressing their behavior issues.

    I love that you listed “do special time.” I started “talk time” with my 8 year old when she was 3. We spend 10 mins at night talking about anything on her mind. I hear the most amazing things during this time. I also hear about her worries and her fears. I pray she will want to have “talk time” for years and years. That communication is so important. Thank you for the great post!

  13. Attachment Parenting International | Spank Out Day said,

    […] “Connection is Key” Parenting from Scratch […]

  14. » Positive Discipline Q&A with Kelly Bartlett Positive Parenting Connection said,

    […] parenting mean to you?  Is it about the tools, about the principles…? A: It’s about relationships. It’s about an unconditional seeker/ provider relationship between children and parents. […]

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