Mindful Disconnections work best with children who are well attached to their parents or to the adult who is looking after them (this works well for teachers etc too). To tell how attachment is going for your children you could read these posts here: Attention Seeking is a Big Fat Lie, Signs of Great Parenting: Babies and Toddlers and Signs of Great Parenting: Pre-School to Age Six.
Mindful Disconnections are still useful for children who aren’t well attached to their parents, but harder work.
Intense attachment to a parent is a great start for our children, but it isn’t the be all and end all. Sometimes our children do things they shouldn’t, or don’t do things they should. These are the times when it is our job to help them develop self-management skills: their brains don’t develop these automatically. By experiencing small doses of cortisol (stress hormone) their brain creates the pathways it needs for later on in life. (There will be times when they are in the big wide world when they will have to do things they don’t want to do.)
Mindful Disconnection is a great alternative to shouting or smacking. This is the second part about dealing with three to six year-olds – although these techniques can be used with older children, it’s a good idea to start at around age three at the latest. (We usually start once our children can walk unaided. No – not all the time for many things, but for one or two things a day – once we’ve shown them what to do.)
What to do when you want your child to do something
The biggest hint to this is: use your body-language.
Often just handing kids the item that is to be put on or put away is enough. Sometimes you don’t even need to give them an instruction. For our older boys, all I have to do is point to their plates (left on the table) and they will pick them up and put them in the sink and fill them up with water, or in the dishwasher.
How does it work? We hand them the item and then we turn our bodies away from the child – perhaps only slightly, but enough to convey that we expect them to complete the task. (We’ve Mindfully Disconnected.)
When parents stand next to their kids after they’ve given an instruction or watch them complete the chore, they are basically implying that they don’t expect the child to do as they are told. Children always follow body-language first and words second. Children who are well attached to their parents will (most often) do as asked in this situation without any bother and fuss.
Once done, we always say thank-you but rarely praise (perhaps comment on how hard they’ve worked – if appropriate). If you’re interested, there’s a post on why we don’t praise floating around here somewhere too.
Most times we ask our kids to do something we have either warned them that the task is coming, “in five minutes you’ll have to pack-up” or we wait until there is a natural pause in their playtime. These two ideas save a lot of hassle. We are also careful not to overload them – so we don’t ask them to do much, but what they do is done properly (clothes in the washing hamper with no bits hanging out). We are also mindful of any potential overwhelmed states: is the mess huge (in their eyes), is the child tired – that sort of thing.
But for a basic refusal to do as told it takes a bit more work on our part, and most importantly – their part. It’s their brain which needs help developing skills for self-management. And we can’t do their push-ups for them, but we can help them through.
Most of this technique came from Diane Levy, the end is the bit she left out of her process – and – respectfully Diane, is really, really important.
1. Ask (in a conversational voice) “Put your backpack away.” (Wait 10 seconds if they do, say thanks, if not move to step 2)
2. Tell (Invade their body space and say firmly) “Put your backpack away.” (Wait 10 seconds if they do, say thanks, if not move to step 3).
3. Move them to a place (anywhere not necessarily the same place each time, and perhaps not even out of the room), and say, “You may leave there once you have decided to put your backpack away.” And turn our bodies/attention away from them. (Mindful Disconnection)
If we smack or shout at this time = we are doing all the work – they (might) get too much cortisol.
If we reason or explain at this time = we are doing all the work, they don’t get the important shot of cortisol.
If we hover = they think we don’t expect them to do as they are told.
If we leave them to process the situation = they experience the small shot of cortisol and do all the (thinking/processing) work.
No, they might not want to put their backpack away. Yes, it needs to be done. No, they don’t want to sit to one side. Yes, they’d prefer to go and do X. Isn’t that the way of the big wide world?
No, we don’t abuse our natural position of power due to greater strength and ask our kids to do a 1000 things. Yes, we expect them to do a few things well. We’re not about turning our kids into mindless puppets.
4. When they’ve done what they’ve been told, we say thank-you and reconnect with eye-contact and/or touch. Reconnection is vital for their cortisol to turn off and levels to fall back to normal.
If they come away from ‘the spot’ and don’t do as asked. We simply put them back. Sometimes I’ll give the instruction again, most times I won’t. Sometimes it takes several returns to the spot.
We rarely have to do anything like this with our older boys. They are not robots, but they understand that some things just have to be done.
The time to do this is through that three to six year-old stage. At this stage children have a bigger world to explore and want to find its edges. By providing boundaries, we give our kids a different kind of security from loving them to bits and being well emotionally connected. This is the same security children get from rituals and stories = there is a beginning, a middle and and end. They learn which of their behaviours are acceptable and which are not. The reconnection phase ensures they know they/themselves are acceptable. They feel a greater sense of self-assurance when they go out into the world and the world places expectations on them.
…and now I’ve hit the 1000 word limit – so will have to cover what to do when they do unpleasant things in a later post. 😉
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