Image of kids together expressing their feelings

There’s a Better Way Than Reprimanding

Recently I witnessed an adult reprimanding a child for bad behaviour. The child’s body language was hunched over, closed and defensive – not ideal for getting a message across.

As parents and educators we want to teach valuable lessons that develop character and appropriate behaviour and actions. I have found that reprimanding my son, as a strategy for reform and development, is an ineffective one. He starts to mirror my energy which only heightens his behaviour. When I look back to when I was growing up, this strategy did not work for me either, it only brought up feelings of fear and anger.

When a child is reprimanded, the conversation is one-sided. The child can experience shame, guilt, sadness, isolation and frustration. They don’t have the opportunity to get in touch with the emotions they felt that created the actions and behaviours in the first place.

Image of child holding a sign that describes his current feelings

Children need boundaries, limits and structure. They also need to understand the consequences of their actions. I believe children can be held accountable without anger or punishment. When you get angry and chastise them, you are teaching them that when they are frustrated with someone else’s behaviour, it’s ok to get angry and react out of anger. As the influential adults in a child’s life, you will get better results by modelling the behaviour and character traits that you want to see from them. When you exhibit kind, compassionate and empathetic behaviour, you are creating an opportunity for more meaningful dialogue.

Creating an Opportunity for Self-Reflection

It starts with us! We all know how easy it is to act from emotions like frustration, overwhelmed, stressed and sad, so imagine how easy it is for our young people. Training ourselves to be conscious of what emotion we are experiencing so that we can move through it by deep breathing, walking away, positive self talk – is the essential part in teaching our children to do the same. Leading by example can be hard but it’s worth effort.

Remembering to speak to them from a place of ‘I Choose to Respect Myself & Others’ creates an opportunity to better understand what is happening for your child/student when they display behaviour you deem inappropriate.

It’s easy to respond to a child’s behaviour by asking them, ‘Why did you say/do that?!’

Asking them ‘why’ questions usually elicits answers like:

  • ‘I felt like it’
  • ‘I wanted to’
  • ‘It doesn’t matter anyway’
  • ‘I don’t know.’
  • “They did this to me so I…’

An effective question is:

‘What were you feeling when this happened?’

Behaviours happen because of an emotion your child/student is feeling.

Let me use my son as an example:

If he can’t find the words to tell me the emotion he is feeling, I bring out the ‘elephant feelings poster’:

Approaching the situation from this angle allows him to identify the emotion that lead to his inappropriate behaviour and it’s also shows him he is making his choice from that emotion. We then talk about ways he can work through that emotion (deep breathing, jumping up and down, punching his pillow, talking to someone, squeezing his stress buddy balloon etc). Without helping him to recognize, identify and release his emotions, he is left with reacting from them.

Helping our child/student on their journey to self regulation can seem like a daunting task. It is my hope that the two posters above will help you and them better able to discuss more openly the process of recognizing, identifying and releasing emotions in healthy ways so that the next time they react, instead of reprimanding, you can say with confidence and compassion, ‘What are you feeling?’

Until next time…