Manuela and Juan are friends and they are the same age, three years old. They quietly play kitchen, until she returns to the living room with her parents and says that now she wants to be alone. Juan doesn’t understand, he gets frustrated and, like a hurricane, removes the stickers from Manuela’s room. He pushes her, yells and gets angry. Her parents try to stop him: nothing. Until his mother yells at him and his eyes widen. They decide to leave: “Because of you we return home.” They punish him: “Today there will be no more games with pirates, nor are you going to see the movie of Pocahontas”.
Yelling, punishing, or blackmailing can block the child’s misbehavior in the moment. Mothers and fathers resort to it because of its high effectiveness, and also because they do not know or do not have other strategies and tools. Lorena García Vega is a pedagogue and expert in neuroeducation, she has created the Kukua Pedagogy project —psycho-pedagogical and family care service whose objective is to cultivate values, emotions, learning and motivation to grow— and is the author of Punishing is not educating (Sphere of books, 2020). García maintains that, in the long term, the consequences of yelling, punishing or blackmailing are not only ineffective, but also negative. Punishment usually loses its impact, therefore more punitive measures must be progressively established for it to have an effect. In addition, he adds: “The minor acts as a passive subject of the situation, avoids taking responsibility for his own behavior and waits for the adult to control and modulate his behavior through rewards and punishments.”
For García, punishment or yelling usually entails humiliation and pain, as well as having a negative impact on the self-concept and self-esteem of the boy and girl. He assures that it upsets them and damages the bond of attachment, since they interpret that the people they love the most cause them discomfort. They can develop distrust and a certain resentment.
The psychologist Ascen Castillo leads the team of 14 psychologists at Tu Refugio Psicología, a cabinet of experts specializing in anxiety, relationships, attachment and trauma, and believes that yelling or punishing works, but with nuances: “You pay a high price for it, since It brings them a lot of suffering.” In the long run, they are made to pay attention through fear and, he assures, that every time they are punished they are told: “You can’t trust that it won’t hurt you or you can’t make a mistake without it having harsh consequences.” ”.
And, then, how are bad behaviors managed?
Castillo’s proposal for managing incorrect behavior is to opt for dialogue when children can understand and speak. Let’s imagine that a minor is not picking up the toys: “We can help them understand the consequences through dialogue: ‘If you don’t pick them up, they will be lost or broken.’ And accompany him to do those things that we want him to do: ‘Mom helps you and we pick him up together’. For this expert, it is essential to try to understand how a child feels and why he does not pay attention, as well as how to restore understanding. For example, in the case above, she can be told: “I understand that picking up is a roll, Mom doesn’t like it either, but it has to be done. Or in Juan’s case, tell him: ‘It’s normal for you to get angry if Manuela doesn’t want to play, we understand that, but you have to respect her decision.’
The pedagogue García assures that children need to experience the consequences of their actions and for this it is important that the adult accompany them without judging or punishing: “When there is little or no desired behavior, the adult can explain the situation objectively , without issuing judgments, but encouraging them to become aware of the consequences of their incorrect acts”. In addition, the specialist points out that depending on their age, they may not have developed empathy, so it will be difficult for them to understand the situation and the magnitude of the consequences: “For this reason, instead of focusing on guilt, it is preferable to do so in the solution, helping them to try to repair what their behavior has caused”.
The psychologist Laura Morán Fernández works on these issues in consultation and argues that if children are not yet mature enough to understand what they are told, or to reconsider their bad actions, adults must assume it. He considers that the responsibility of the parents is to accompany them in the process and respect how they feel: “If they get angry because it is time to go to bed, telling them that they are angry over something silly would be questioning how they feel and that, simply, It is not appropriate because emotions are the same”. For this reason, as she explains, in situations like these the most useful thing is to validate them and accept that minors may feel bad, frustrated, disappointed, instead of trying not to make them feel that way.
Tantrums, for example, are one of the ways in which they express their anger. Morán points out that at that moment it is not possible to dialogue or negotiate: “The physiological activation is so high and they are so overwhelmed by emotions that they cannot pay attention or regulate themselves easily. That is why it is important that we do not despair or add fuel to the fire”. For the professional, the best thing to do is to leave space for the emotion of anger to run its course: “If the emotional manifestations were more violent, then we must intervene to prevent them from doing harm.” For the expert, in these cases it is very useful to hold their arms and seek their gaze while we speak to them without raising our voices: “It is not about shaking them, but about being firm and conveying the message that we understand the emotion they are going through.”
García adds that minors are immersed in a trial-error process and need space and time to develop skills. “That the adult makes them feel bad (or worse) for having done something wrong is not a solution; however, accompanying them and making them understand the consequences does favor learning and awareness so that they start acting in a different way”. The idea is that the child, little by little, understands the consequences of her actions and takes responsibility for her behavior, as well as how it affects others. “If as a mother I remain calm, I already have a large part done,” Castillo resumes. And, above all, the expert recommends flaunting the popular phrase “love me when I least deserve it because it will be when I need it the most.”
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