Discipline Your Kids

At MOMS group on Thursday we had a Christian counselor come and speak with us on The Art of Parenting. It was a great talk. She introduced a new discipline technique that had most of us incredulously questioning. It was thought provoking and intriguing, and hard to believe that it would “work”.

The meat and potatoes of the technique is something called “mirroring”. We do this without even realizing when we are interacting with a newborn baby; if the baby is gazing at you, you kind of open your eyes wide too and engage in talking about what they might be thinking or looking at. If the baby is fussy, you might make a down-at-the-mouth face back and say something along the lines of, “Oh you’re so sad! Do you need a diaper change? Do you need to eat?” and verbalize what may be going on with the baby.

When you “mirror” your child, you imitate their facial expression and repeat what they say. That’s it.

The objective is not to modify behavior, but to connect with your child on an emotional level, to show them they have been seen and heard, which are crucial for a healthy state of mind.

I chose to implement this when the children are whining or crying which are two of the behaviors that drive me the craziest, I most want to get to an underlying cause of, and most want to eliminate completely in our home.

The afternoon after the meeting: Brielle and Aviana are arguing in their room and Brielle is speaking extremely rudely to her sister.

“Brielle, come here!”
(whining crying verge of tantrumy voice) “Mama, Aviana wouldn’t wet me have the foopstool!”

(in a similar voice, similar face) Aviana wouldn’t let you have the footstool

(whining crying verge of tantrumy voice) No, and I really wanted it!

(in a similar voice, similar face) You really wanted it!

(whining crying but no longer almost out of control voice) I had it and she tried to take it fwom me and I wouldn’t wet her have it!

(in a similar voice, similar face) You had it, and she tried to take it from you and you wouldn’t let her have it.

(just a little whining voice) I yelled at her, and tried to get the foopstool.

(in a similar voice, similar face) You yelled at her and tried to get the footstool.


She snuggled quietly into my shoulder and rested there a while.
Then I said, “We don’t yell at one another, do we?”
“No.” “We don’t treat each other unkindly, do we?”
“No.” “Ok, go apologize to Aviana for being not treating her with love, and give her a hug. “
“OK Mama.” And she did!

(and of course, I called Aviana in and did a similar process with her, because when kids are fighting, they are BOTH being selfish and BOTH their hearts need dealt with.)

IT was AMAZING! Usually, I’d be more stern and expect the child to get herself under control before she talks to me. If she couldn’t, she would have to be disciplined because now she’s disobeying, and it’s hard to put a tearful child on the Naughty Step. Sometimes it would escalate further.

Instead I felt connected to my child. I felt I’d relieved her of some hurt. I felt I’d helped her. And I still felt like she could hear the necessary correction and could change her heart.

It worked with Aviana.

And it even worked with 18-month old Cadrian. He usually has huge fits when he doesn’t get his way, like when the computer cabinet gets locked, or the pen gets taken away or the snack is denied, or he gets put on the floor. you know, the usual terrible travesties in a young man’s life. Usually I just say, “we don’t scream at Mama” then ignore him and ask after a few minutes, “are you ready to be quiet now?” And then pick him up when he nods and is quiet.

I tried mirroring instead, and while he still had the fit, it didn’t last as long and wasn’t as loud, as it usually seems like it is.

Mirroring worked with all kinds of tearfulness and whinging in the past couple of days. And every time, nothing further was needed. The child felt heard, felt validated, FELT LOVED.

The next time you need to discipline your kids, please, try mirroring!

8 thoughts on “Discipline Your Kids

  1. Ok, I'm curious now. I'll have to try this tomorrow. Sounds like I usually discipline similarly to how you have been in the past. Not always with stellar results either…

    If I have any success with this I'll come back and give you an update!

  2. I'm glad it worked for you – although I've done this before and it just made the situation worse as they couldn't stand my mimicry. Maybe I was doing it wrong.

  3. Hi Jessica – Great post and congratulations on the discovery of "emotion coaching."

    I am a mom and child advocate who also uses a similar style of parenting. I promote parenting that is non-punitive and uses a method of communication based on nonviolent communication http://www.cnvc.org which is similar to the "mirroring" exercise you describe.

    Nonviolent communication is guided by the underlying principle that all behavior is an attempt to meet a need – and when you acknowledge the needs and feelings of another person – they feel "heard" and thus communication can move to the problem solving phase.

    Children learn – not through behavior management and punitive consequences but through relationship. Our interaction – based on a solid bond – is how children learn best. And young children (under 5) do not have the ability or brain function to make better choices – they react mostly from their mid-brain or the emotional center of the brain.

    The mimicing for young children is also described on Harvey Karps – Happiest Baby on the Block and is very effective – because you are mirroring the feelings of the child and that helps him feel heard.

    There are many (free) resources and articles to support your parenting shift to this rather untraditional fashion available at my website http://www.teach-through-love.com OR some authors to check out that can give you more information is Alfie Kohn, John Gottman, Daniel Siegel, Naomi Aldort, Sura Hart & Victoria Kindle Hodson & Dr. Jane Nelsen of Positive Discipline (though her toddler methods are not as friendly as I'd prefer – still great stuff).

    My daughter is 4 and I credit her optimal development and ability to show compassion and self-regulate with the decision to always treat her with respect – even when she is "behaving badly."

    I also interact with my Facebook page/fans – daily with tips, links and info to support parents. -It's a great community – check us out if you like and happy parenting!
    Best regards, Lori

  4. I've been trying this this week and it's a QUICK diffuser for the whiny situations that plague a household with 3 small children! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the advice!

  5. How sweet…I'll have to try this out too…I am pro-disciplining, but at times am too strict.

    I just realized that you're expecting!!! How wonderful! Congratulations! {hugs}

  6. I wish I could attach a voice to my comment so that you'd know it's not meant harsh but just different.

    I am usually very weary of any pop psychology when it comes to raising my children. I believe the scripture is very apt to help me out with this. It says if a child disobeys an instruction from a parent then they need they need to be disciplined with the rod. The rod is a wooden implement. Just as the rod symbolized the strength of God in the OT I believe it is an act of Faith (belief in God's character) that he's the one changing their heart and my responsibility is to use the rod as his instrument to do so. Lowering ourselves to our childrenโ€™s level doesn't set a standard or teach them self control.

    I really hope I didn't offend you…please know that this is just a difference not a judgment.

  7. This is a fantastic tip, Jessica. I will definitely be giving mirroring a try. There are plenty of days that I am at my wits end with my two toddlers. Seems like this is a super effective method to keep the peace! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I loved this!!


    PS: I also had forgotten how lovely your children's names are. Can't wait to see what you decide on for your next baby.

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