Feel, think, act

Immature behaviour is when someone acts on an emotion without thinking. They go straight from feeling to acting. They feel angry, and so they lash out and hit. They want a toy, and they just snatch from another child. They feel hungry, so they just take food straight from the cupboard.

Part of good discipline is to insert some thinking between the feeling and acting. All the discipline techniques we teach are designed to slow kids down so they can actually do a bit of thinking before they act. When it’s done well, time out does that. Too often time-out and similar techniques like the quiet-time chair or the corner technique are just used as punishments. In my mind, punishment is not discipline. What parents often call discipline is actually revenge: “You’ve made me feel bad, so I’m going to make you feel bad.” Real discipline looks less at whatever a child did wrong and more at how they are going to make a better decision next time. You are not like a prosecutor focused on the crime but more like a coach who has picked up on something that needs working on.

A good way to start is to quieten them down so their emotions will cool off and let their brains work – that’s the real purpose of time out – and then your questions, “What will be a better way to get what you want?” You are moving them on from ‘I feel so I act’ on to better behaviour based on ‘I feel, I think, I act’.

Interestingly, as adults we struggle to do that as well. Most of our decisions are made emotionally rather than logically. If we do do some thinking, it is to justify the decision we have already made. Maybe we need to give ourselves some time-out and learn how to think, too.

For more, check out John’s corner.

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