o you have two parenting styles to choose from right? Empathy or Discipline. Well, no.
In this episode we:
- Define and discuss the three types of empathy and two types of discipline,
- Dismantle the polarisation of Empathy and Discipline,
- Show how they can constructively work together.
Additionally, discipline has an unwarranted reputation for being “negative” which it does not deserve. Listen and hear why!
Justin Kyngdon: Welcome to the Annie’s Centre podcast. My name is Justin Kyngdon.
Dr. Chalfant: I’m Dr. Anne Chalfant. Today we’ll be discussing empathy versus discipline.
Female Speaker: One mother, one mission, to create a world where families thrive. Dr. Anne Chalfant, internationally acclaimed clinical psychologist, family therapist, author, and mother of four children, brings you powerful and practical parenting techniques from her clinical and personal experience. Ladies and gentlemen, the doctor is in the house.
Justin: But first, if you want high welfare, super delicious craft beef direct from a farmer, then you need to get your orders into Our Cow before the 9th of December. Their website is www.ourcow.com.au. Go visit it, check out that they deliver your area, buy a beef box and you too can support Australian farmers doing what they do best, which is make the greatest produce in the world. Our Cow is part of the Buy From the Bush Campaign as well. That website again is www.ourcow.com.au. Get your orders in before the 9th of December. Our Cow, buy better meat. Now on with the show. In today’s topic, you want to discuss empathy versus discipline as parenting styles, why?
Dr. Chalfant: Because it’s doing my head in [chuckles] lately and I need a place to offload. In all seriousness though, I think as a mother as well as a clinician, this issue comes up all the time. As a clinician, my own patients and the families I work with are constantly asking me whether they should use empathy or whether they should discipline in a range of different scenarios with their kids or their teenagers.
Justin: It’s black and white.
Dr. Chalfant: Well, I think they see it as black and white, and therefore, they ask the question from a place of trying to have a strategy to use which is straightforward that they can follow. Parents are always wanting, any human being is wanting a simple approach that’s practical and easy to implement. One that’s not murky and muddy, so that it’s clear. Parents want to know that when they do X, Y is going to happen with their child. I think they ask from a black and white perspective because they want it to be straight forward. I think, therefore, they expect it to be a black and white answer. That’s understandable.
Then I think as a mother myself with four children, I’m often reflecting. Probably that’s the danger of being a clinician and a mother at the same time. I’m often reflecting and frankly probably over-analyzing my parenting style or skills and often in hindsight thinking about whether the way I approached my own children was appropriate, logical, where the interaction was successful, whether our relationship was still well connected and formed, all those sorts of things because I know they’re very important things as a clinician and so I want to make sure that they see that, develop within my parenting as well. It really has been on my mind a lot.
Justin: Let’s start at the top of the funnel before we get too far into things. Let’s understand a definition of what empathy is and what discipline is, because personally when I think of empathy, I sometimes think is it being sympathetic? What is empathy?
Dr. Chalfant: Empathy is a little bit different to sympathy. Empathy is feeling with someone. In my mind, one way that I think is helpful to imagine is putting yourself alongside next to someone. Literally, if you think of a child or an adolescent sitting on the couch alongside, then that’s the image I conjure up and an arm around them and really putting yourself in their perspective, seeing it from their perspective. Being alongside them, that’s what empathy is, feeling with them. Then there are different types of empathy.
You can be empathetic at a thinking level or a cognitive level, so you can see something from another person’s perspective without necessarily having your emotions engaged. Then there’s emotional empathy where you literally feel the same feelings as the other person at the same time, as they’re feeling them. For example, if your child is hurt or distressed, you actually feel hurt or distressed at the same time. Or a child, when I look at you and smile and giggle, you look back and laugh and giggle, and there’s a moment that you share shared pleasure. There’s emotional empathy there. There’s compassion, which is another type of empathy where you can see from their perspective how they’re feeling, but you try and make suggestions to help them move through the feeling to a point of resolution. They are the different types of empathy.
Justin: Okay. Let’s just recap those, so there are three types of empathy.
Dr. Chalfant: Cognitive empathy or thinking from another person’s perspective.
Justin: That’s I can see from your perspective, but I’m not really showing you emotion or sharing the emotion?
Dr. Chalfant: Correct. There’s emotional empathy.
Justin: Number two.
Dr. Chalfant: We actually feel the same emotion at the same time with the individual, and then there’s compassion. You’re seeing it from their perspective, but then trying to help that person through the emotion to a point of resolution.
Justin: I think everyone listening can probably think of examples of each of those, personal examples.
Dr. Chalfant: For sure. That’s different to sympathy in that sympathy is usually a step removed from that. It’s something that we experience more from a distance, whereas empathy, as I said, is feeling with. [crosstalk]
Justin: Feeling with. Excellent. Discipline, let’s define that.
Dr. Chalfant: I think that’s probably the reason that this has been something I’ve really been obsessing over lately, to be honest, because I think discipline is misunderstood. I think that’s at least the conclusion that I’ve come to. When I read in this area and do my own research and listen to families that come to me, I think discipline has been misunderstood as negative discipline or negative consequences like ignoring kids and using time out or giving a punishment or setting limits.
Justin: Discipline’s now just become pure negative connotation.
Dr. Chalfant: It’s being viewed in that way. As in to discipline a child, people typically think of discipline as a set of consequences for behavior. Whereas what discipline really is, is simply teaching children through shaping their behavior. Yes, consequences may be a part of that, but consequences can be positive as well as negative. You can have children who learn in fact to engage in a particular behavior, like being helpful around the house because of the positive consequences they get from you i.e. maybe it’s praise or reward or some form of affection that shows them that you really value the fact that they’ve, I don’t know, helped you empty the dishwasher. They might be more inclined to do it again next time. Discipline really means both. It means the delivery of positive and negative consequences and the way we teach and shape or try and change behavior, and mold behavior on the basis of the way we give consequences to children.
Justin: It’s a more nuanced approach to discipline. Really, we’ve looked at this topic, empathy versus discipline, would it be correct to say empathy and discipline as a parenting style?
Dr. Chalfant: I think there are so many different parenting styles and definitely again looking on Dr. Google and listening to families and all of the books, and blogs, and posts that are out there, everyone’s got their five cents worth on parenting these days. It’s really hard for parents to know which way to go. I think that’s another reason why I sometimes as a mother I feel overwhelmed because there’s a lot of information out there.
In terms of parenting styles and empathy and discipline, yes, I think it is more correct to say that the two can go together. There are times where one should use probably empathy and that’s enough. There are times when discipline on its own is more appropriate in the sense of using positive or negative consequences to try and directly change behavior. Then there is a time where both are important to be used at the same time, really. I can give little scenarios or examples.
Justin: They’re not necessarily then opposing forces?
Dr. Chalfant: No, and I think that’s a problem for families who come to me. I certainly think when I have been researching and thinking about this myself, maybe that’s the reason why I’ve been personally struggling with it is because online and in the literature, they’re portrayed now almost as opposing forces, that if you are empathetic, somehow you’re going to be overly indulgent of your child or so emotionally empathetic with them that you won’t be able to see past that in order to make sensible decisions about how to adjust the child or help the child learn to adjust their own behavior. For example, if your child is fearful, that you’ll be so empathetic to the fact that they’re fearful, that you’ll facilitate their avoidance of whatever they’re fearful of. We talked in the last episode about the importance of facing fears.
Justin: That’s your helicopter parent example.
Dr. Chalfant: Yes, that’s exactly why.
Justin: That’s where that phrase is used that the parents’ intervention constantly, whenever the child experiences some level of challenge or maybe catastrophe, so it’s almost getting a name in that way and that’s the same as being bad.
Dr. Chalfant: It is a little bit. Yes, it’s being permissive really, empathy is being mistaken for permissive, a permissive parenting style.
Justin: The child can get away with anything, mommy and daddy will come in and rescue them.
Dr. Chalfant: Yes, or the child is seen as an equal to the parent really.
Justin: Which is a risk in and of itself.
Dr. Chalfant: It is, absolutely. It’s certainly not a way that I would view parenting. In the family structure, there is a hierarchy and whether we like that or not, that’s the way it exists and that’s not just for humans, that’s for animals and all sorts of beings that there’s a hierarchy. There are parents as a unit in a family at the top, and then there are children or a parent and a child depending on the family situation. It is appropriate to see those as different roles.
We don’t think that a four-year-old should be in charge of making their own decisions and determinations, and frankly, it’s probably not even appropriate for a 14 or even a 15-year-old to be doing the same. There is a role for parents to set rules and boundaries and guidelines for their children, so there is a hierarchy in place, and it’s important to understand and enforce I suppose, from want of a better description than hierarchy.
Justin: It’s interesting you say that because then that sense of enforcement then comes to this idea of the discipline parent, which has this connotation of say, the tiger mum or the whatever tiger dad or that kind of person that then become so strict that it ends up– You may have a child that’s performing exceptionally well academically, but then suddenly pushes the parents away at a certain age because enough’s enough. There can be other consequences to that as well that the child experiences. What are your thoughts then around that discipline piece and what that means?
Dr. Chalfant: Again, I think in the research that I’ve been doing, and in the families that come to me and again in the books and blogs that I read, discipline is misunderstood or probably misconstrued to mean negative consequences and parents who are very then disciplinary in their style if you like, or really the word is authoritarian.
Justin: Right, so consequences.
Dr. Chalfant: Yes, than it is about punishment and a more punitive approach that this will happen and it will only be my way or the highway. When I say jump, you say how high, that sort of an approach. Again, if we take that in and of itself whilst just as being empathetic has advantages. Being a disciplinary or being authoritarian potentially has some advantages too, you’re trying to create some structure for kids and you’re trying to help them understand that there are boundaries and limits and just show respect for those as they develop. That’s really important. They’re life skills that children and adolescents need.
Again, if we think only in that framework or that style, there are definitely negative consequences which are that children feel inhibited. They feel that they can’t really get a word in edge-wise, that they have no say whatsoever, that there’s almost total disrespect for them as another being in a family.
Unlike with the permissive parenting style where they’re seen as equal, in the disciplinarian style, where discipline is thought of in a negative way, children are really viewed as they’re to be told and not to be heard. That can be so restrictive that at some point, children rebel against that, so the total opposite really of what those parents are trying to achieve. The other negative consequence is things like low self-esteem. They feel worthless. They feel that they don’t have a voice and they feel helpless really so it can lead to things like anxiety and depression.
Justin: That’s good. Now we’ve got almost two polar opposites of each other of them being disciplined.
Dr. Chalfant: [crosstalk] the way they’ve been presented more of the time has been to polarize them.
Justin: Good explanation there. Let’s now discuss, how do we end the polarization of empathy and discipline and how do we approach the empathy and discipline together so that parents can use both in a constructive way or grandparents, caregivers, teachers, anyone, how can they use empathy and discipline in a constructive way in the home or in the workplace so that it helps improve the relationship or continue to develop the relationship and also remain respectful of the adult and of the child at the same time? What are some strategies in that space?
Dr. Chalfant: I think the thing that I have come to realize from the hours, literally hours and hours that I have spent obsessing over my own children. The oldest is nearly 10, so 10 years worth of hours obsessing over my parenting style as all good clinicians do and looking at this from a clinical perspective as well as a practitioner. There are two important things I’ve come to understand, one is that they do go together and I’ll run through some scenarios now about how that can work.
The other is the value of time in parenting, which I think is actually the– In fact, that’s the most important thing, having time as a parent and I’ll talk about that in a moment.
Justin: Let’s do some scenarios and then let’s talk about time.
Dr. Chalfant: When to use which one and how can they sit together. In a recent Facebook post, I gave a really quick description of this but to extrapolate on that, when you have a situation where something has been expected, for example, let’s think of a child who’s expecting to go out for a particular outing.
Justin: Go to a movie. They’re expecting to go to a movie
Dr. Chalfant: For whatever reason, that plan changes as it often does in family. Someone’s sick, so you can’t all go so it’s not fair for some to go when others stay at home so the executive decision is made not to do it or something like that. It could be so many reasons that plans change, the plan change all the time, but the child is expecting something like a movie, and the plan changes, so they’re really disappointed.
Justin: Now they’re told my mum and dad, “I’m now going to stay at home, there’s no movie, that’s it.”
Dr. Chalfant: Or I can think of a scenario actually, one that I like even better is one that happened tonight in our family. Setting the table, ask the child in question to set the table, the second.
Justin: Number two.
Dr. Chalfant: Yes. Number two, who’s spent a lot of effort and time setting the table in a particular way with particular sized plates. Then what happened was we realized that the dinner that we produced was going to be larger than what this plate could hold. “Could you please go and change the plates over?”
The response, whether it’s a movie or whether it’s this particular incidence that happened in our household was pretty similar to what we do expect, which is, “Why don’t you understand that I’ve just spent a lot of time choosing these plates and you asked me to do it, and I did it, and now you want to change it.”
Or in the case of a movie, it would be something along the lines of, “I thought we were going to a movie and now we’re not, why aren’t we going, that really sucks.” Or language to that effect, probably worse. Just stress and frustration and probably a bit of anger, maybe a meltdown, depending on the child and their age and all sorts of things. It’s one of great disappointment mixed with other emotions and that plays out in their behavior. There’s a change in plan and there is that distress.
In that situation, that’s beyond the child’s control or the teenager’s control. It’s not something they choose to have changed. Like in the dinner example, it was me who discovered really that the planned dinner wasn’t going to be sufficient for what they had separately organized in terms of the plates. That’s not their doing, and it’s out of their control. In the movie scenario, it’s not the child’s fault that another child may be sick for instance, and the family has made the decision not to go. This is simply been a change that’s out of their control. In that situation, it is very appropriate to be empathetic because we want to show that child that we can really put ourselves in their shoes. It’s not of their doing, they haven’t deliberately chosen to be peeved and to have a tantrum for no apparent reason.
They were expecting one thing, something else has happened instead. For all intents and purposes, as far as they’re concerned, that seems pretty unreasonable, and from a child or adolescent’s perspective depending on what the scenario is, it may well be unreasonable, so we need to put ourselves in their shoes.
Justin: Okay. How do we do that in that moment when– In this example, you’re trying to get dinner around.
Dr. Chalfant: Yes.
Justin: Right. The plates are wrong. In your adult mind, just change the plates. It’s not that big a deal. Just going from something smaller to bigger. You’ve just explained how it is actually a big deal in the child’s mind. With all that challenge going on, let’s just use the dinner example for now. You’ve got dinner going, you’re going to hit a deadline. You want dinner served so you can still get everyone to bed or other homework done at a good time. What’s the practical approach in that circumstance with that child?
Dr. Chalfant: The practical approach and not to give myself too much of a pat on the back, but for once I feel like I did get it right. [laughs]
Dr. Chalfant: What I did do in this situation is what I think I would ask my own clients or patients to do. That is the practical approach would be to say, “I can really see how you have spent a lot of time thinking this through tonight. You put a huge amount of effort into setting the table in the way that you thought would be lovely, choosing the right plates. You’ve even got the cutlery arranged beautifully. It’s taken you some time and effort, and this was really important for you.” Really showing the child, in this instance, my son, that I could understand that he had spent time and energy on this. It was something that meant something to him.
Aligning with him or being with him or alongside him, that analogy of sitting on a couch alongside with an arm around, that’s what I did in that situation. Then to go on to say, “What I simply meant was I haven’t planned this well enough with the dinner. I actually need larger plates. How would you feel about that?” Now, what I saw in him was what we would usually find when we show empathy in a situation where something has changed that is beyond the child or the adolescent’s control and we should show empathy. That is, he said, “Okay, mommy, no problem. I’ll go and change the plates.” Thanks for understanding.
Justin: He’s had the meltdown.
Dr. Chalfant: Yes
Justin: You’ve then done–
Dr. Chalfant: Put myself in his shoes.
Justin: In his shoes. In this example, you’ve done that first empathy-
Dr. Chalfant: Absolutely.
Justin: -example, which is that you haven’t felt his emotion, but you were cognitive. Is that right?
Dr. Chalfant: Yes, I’ve been compassionate. I would say.
Dr. Chalfant: I’ve seen it from his perspective. Then I’ve tried to make a suggestion of how we could perhaps move forward. At the same time, I’ve also tried to explain that I made an error. I’ve tried to be honest as well and say, I misjudged really what I thought was going to happen.
Justin: You’ve acknowledged the fact that this was an adult’s decision in this moment and the adult changed things. Not that he picked out the wrong plates.
Dr. Chalfant: Absolutely.
Dr. Chalfant: Then on the basis of that, he has gone back and changed the plates and been happy to go with that. I think the main reason why in these situations, as it was with number two for us, and it is with other kids or adolescents when empathy should be shown and is shown was effective, is that it basically takes the heat out of the situation. It stops the child from thinking that you are there posing a threat to them, trying to get them to somehow snap out of their emotional response.
Rather that you align with them, you can see it from their perspective. That allows them to feel, I suppose, reassured like you’ve really heard them.
Justin: Then I need to make sure that the voice I’m using in delivering what you just said is a reassuring type that I don’t– I have to pause myself when the food is cooking and I don’t want to burn it or what have you, is that I take a breath and deliver it in a calm way because you could say what you’ve just said, but delivered in a very rushed way or what could be perceived as being insincere and not actually be interpreted by the child as being empathetic.
Dr. Chalfant: Exactly. That’s exactly right. The first thing really is not just giving lip service. Empathy is really about truly demonstrating to the child that you not only can you see it from their perspective, but you have to prove to a child, kids, and adolescents, and really adults as well need to actually– It’s like what’s your evidence of that? You’re telling me that you can see it from my perspective, or you can see that I’m frustrated. You can see that I’m sad, or you could see that I’m disappointed, but show me how you can see it. That’s what empathy really is. It’s about the parent truly putting themselves in the child’s shoes by showing them exactly how it is that they can see that person is feeling that way.
The way we demonstrate that is by articulating clearly and calmly, as you’ve just described to that individual, that we can see these emotions, we can see it in their behavior. We’re guessing that they’re probably thinking dot, dot, dot. Using the example of the dinner, I said to him, “I can see you put a lot of time and effort into this that it’s frustrating that I’ve just come along and changed it. This was something that really was important to you.”
I’ve tried to give words to what I’m perceiving in his emotions rather than just say, “Look, I can see you’re unhappy about it and why don’t we do this instead?” Which is a little bit more like giving something that’s superficial looking–
Justin: And a little bit dismissive.
Dr. Chalfant: Yes. Exactly. Imagine if this was your partner. If you were to come home from work and you’ve had a bad day and I ask you, “How was your day?” and you disclose that you’ve had a terrible meeting or something’s gone wrong or whatever. I say, “Oh, well I can see you’re frustrated. It’ll be fine. Just do this and it’ll sort itself out.” Give you a list of suggestions. That doesn’t sit well for an individual.
Justin: Yes, right.
Dr. Chalfant: As opposed to–
Justin: You haven’t heard me.
Dr. Chalfant: Absolutely as opposed to if I say, “Yes, that must’ve been really hard for you.” I can see how and really try to put myself in your shoes by articulating what emotions I think you might’ve been feeling and talking about what I think must have been going through your head at that point in time. I’m reassuring the individual, you, in that instance or our son, or other parents with their own kids, I’m reassuring that I’m putting effort. I care about what your feelings are and I can prove that care, but I can back it up basically by trying to speak about your feelings and your thoughts at that point in time.
Justin: We still want to look at time. Let’s look at then what’s the appropriate use of discipline? As we said let’s not look at this polarization of these two parenting styles, and let’s bring them back together. Let’s give examples of where discipline is an appropriate parenting style.
Dr. Chalfant: That was empathy. Discipline would be appropriate where we talked with empathy about when something happens that’s beyond the child’s control. For example, a common one is a change in circumstances that’s beyond their control. Discipline is more appropriate for where the child really deliberately is testing limits. You ask them to pack up their toys and they give you a bit of cheek back. “No.” Or maybe a limit is placed on the child and they chuck a toy or they give you a bit of sass or maybe they hit their sibling, or maybe they even hit you in response to some limit being placed on them.
It is reasonable to use, we might think of negative discipline or negative consequences, like setting limits on behaviors or potentially ignoring inappropriate language and things like that, so that the child understands that there will still be limits put on them. It’s not necessarily appropriate in that situation to say to a child, “Well, look, I can see that you don’t really feel like packing your toys up at the moment because it’s boring to do it,” and all that. I mean, you could try that, but I think ultimately parents feel that that response is ultimately ineffectual that once you’ve shown a child that you can see that it’s boring to pack up their toys, well then what? Does the child pack up the toys or not? That’s where discipline comes in.
It is reasonable to say, “In this house, we pack up our belongings, so I expect you to pack up your toys now, please.” You can use a firmer voice or remind them of the instruction or remind them the consequences that whether it’s done now or later, the toys are going to get packed up. Those sorts of things are very reasonable to do in that situation. It doesn’t require a lengthy discussion about how the child may be thinking or feeling relating to packing up toys or not hitting their brother, or not responding with inappropriate language when you ask them to come to the table or something like that.
Then there are times where both are appropriate. Before I get onto that, just in terms of discipline, we talked earlier about not wanting to think of discipline as just a negative response. It’s appropriate to use discipline in the positive sense, teaching a behavior through positive practices, like praise and affection and rewards and other positive responses all the time. Whenever we see the right behavior from a child, the behavior that we’d like to see more of being cooperative using kind language at home, being respectful.
Justin: Finishing homework on time.
Dr. Chalfant: Yes, for instance, putting effort into things, all those sorts of behaviors. Then it’s very appropriate to use positive consequences like, and again, I did a Facebook post, a video post on this. Some weeks ago now, people can check that out, but a range of positive consequences from affection to praise to even something quite silly like doing a funny dance that makes it really memorable for the child, that that response got such a strong reaction from you and therefore they’re quite likely to do it again. To maybe rewards at times, tangible rewards, maybe there’s a point system in place where they earn a certain number of points towards a particular
Justin: Like the old milkshake at McDonald’s or something like that?
Dr. Chalfant: Yes, absolutely could be that. Absolutely any of those sorts of things. That also is discipline in the positive sense of teaching a child or shaping or molding behavior.
Justin: What about chores around the house?
Dr. Chalfant: What about them?
Justin: Is that a sense of, if you give an example like they are children, they have age-appropriate chores. Is that an example of positive discipline or is that responsibility?
Dr. Chalfant: Giving them responsibility is really important, asking them to do chores, to be cooperative is giving them a responsibility but your response to that, as in the expectation that they do it and a response when they do do it, or when they don’t do it is all part of the broader discipline system if you like.
Justin: Okay. For example, the oldest response to a chore is to make all of the beds. When they do do it, without being prompted because they know that’s what they have to do. What’s that? Is that an example of– How would you then positively reward that discipline?
Dr. Chalfant: Yes. You could use a number of different responses. Sometimes it might be praise. Sometimes it might be affection. Sometimes it might be that they’re earning points towards a particular goal. Like a milkshake at McDonald’s or milkshake wherever you want to have your milkshakes but anyway, or it might be that you simply go over to them and say, again, level with them and say, “When you do this, it makes me feel so happy that you’ve been so cooperative and I think that’s fantastic.” You can be quite sincere as well and tell them how much your behavior means to me.
Justin: Right. Also, when they remember to take their dishes to the table after dinner, something you may have been reminding them, and then when you catch them do it, I know we’ve done this. When you see them put the cup into the sink, you are then positive in saying, “Well done, thank you, for doing that. We’ve talked about that.” That’s again positive reinforcement of being disciplined, knowing that that’s the expectation.
Dr. Chalfant: Using discipline, it’s teaching a behavior or shaping a behavior by positively reinforcing it. Yes, by [crosstalk] it up.
Justin: Then an example of say where the beds then don’t get made over successive days. How is the appropriate way to approach? Is that when the child is not showing the discipline they should be showing in an area that they’d been given responsibility for?
Dr. Chalfant: In that situation, you might need to think as a parent about why is this happening? If there’s a pattern now, is it that the task itself, do they know how to do the task? Are they avoiding it because there’s something about the task that’s now really mundane? Is there a way of assisting them with making it more interesting perhaps? Is it that the task is to own, or it’s like has the task been set at a reasonable level for their development? For example, asking a 5-year-old to make the bed or make two or three beds may not be reasonable at all but asking the 9 or 10-year-old, that might be very reasonable. I think that knowing how to respond depends on thinking through those different scenarios first. Then you can determine what the best response is.
Justin: As a parent, you might make the wrong call. You might think a great idea was to say, make the beds for this child at this age. They suddenly don’t do it. It may not necessarily be that they’re not interested or something like that. You just may have chosen the wrong chore for the wrong age?
Dr. Chalfant: For sure and that can happen often and [unintelligible 00:34:35], it’s really, I think one of the things, the more I know, the more I know I don’t know. Parenting sometimes is a bit of trial and error. Children are unpredictable. They’re human beings. They’re individuals. What works one day may not always work the next and I think parenting well is about being flexible and about being able to reflect and go okay. What is it in this situation that didn’t work? Was it that they just didn’t know what to do? If they don’t know what to do, then I can easily spend more time teaching them and then they will know what to do. Is it that this task is so unappealing to them that it needs to be a different task? They’re more prepared to do some other chore like vacuum the floor where they can be praised and rewarded for that instead? Is it that the task in and of itself is too difficult and I can make it easier or simpler? They’re all things that can be adjusted when you’ve got the capacity to reflect and be flexible and not simply see it as “Right. Well, I asked for this to happen and it hasn’t happened. Therefore, there’s an instant consequence for that behavior.”
Justin: You’re going to miss dessert tonight. You’re not going to earn a point. You’re not going to get the whatever X, Y, Z reward or–
Dr. Chalfant: I think that’s where we go wrong with thinking of discipline as only negative. We can become punitive and harsh, and that’s not necessarily the right response when someone simply isn’t partaking in their chores on a regular basis. Sometimes it is reasonable to give a consequence or set a limit. If you’ve gone through all those other things in your mind like I have shown you what to do. I’ve set the task at a reasonable level for your stage of development. Yes. Doing chores generally is a bit boring, but well, that’s okay [crosstalk]-
Justin: Welcome to life.
Dr. Chalfant: -little bit. Yes, that’s right. That’s okay. I’ve ticked all those boxes in my mind so my expectation is that you do make your bed, for instance, and if they still are not doing that or resisting, or ultimately being obstinate or oppositional and saying, “Stuff you. I’m not going to make the bed.” Then it’s okay to set limits and say, “Well, in this house we do our chores and it’s unreasonable that you’re behaving like this, and there is a consequence to that.” Maybe there is something that is a privilege that might be removed or maybe some people use ignoring bad behavior until the child sees himself and then they come around. Some people use time out. It really depends on the situation, the family. I think that’s the thing that’s not always a one-two-three approach that works. In general,you can follow a recipe style approach but I think you need to think through the situation first and that’s where time is really important.
Justin: Right. Then great segue way. [laughs] Let’s spend the last, next few minutes–
Dr. Chalfant: A little bit of time talking about time.
Dr. Chalfant: I think that’s certainly, from a clinical perspective and as a parent, what is becoming clearer and clearer to me as I get older and wiser, hopefully, is that unless I have adequate time for the children, then I can’t make sensible decisions as to whether to be empathetic, whether to use various forms of discipline, either positive or negative. What limits to set? Why I’m setting limits at all? What’s causing certain behaviors? What the root cause might be? Is there a pattern, all those things? I need time to be able to appropriately assess the situation and work out what the response should be and then I need to be flexible.
There isn’t only one style of parenting that is the right way to go. There are like any good approach, it might borrow bits and pieces from lots of different styles. An eclectic style is a good style. A flexible individual, I think, is an effective parent. Someone who can look at the situation with the child and approach that in a level headed way based on the time of judging it sensibly.
Justin: All right, there’s more than one key on a piano in the same way that there’s more than one parenting style and so you’ve got a choice there.
Dr. Chalfant: One thing that is important to say though about discipline while I remember it, is the importance of keeping it as neutral and boring as possible. Not having–
Justin: Which is hard when you don’t have time. You can be faster to anger when you’re under a deadline, which could be something as important right in the moment, which is maybe getting a child to bed or getting something done so that dinner can be put on the table at a reasonable time but when we’re working towards deadlines like that, and a time pressure, we are faster to anger. How can you catch yourself in that moment and create the time to then pause, basically pause to then not go to anger and then create a bigger problem?
Dr. Chalfant: I think that’s a hard one in the world we live in where parents are under lots of other pressures and that’s what starves their time, even their mental time. I can be with my children, but not really with them if I’m mentally somewhere else, still at work, still thinking about other tasks that I’ve got to get done once they’re in bed, so I’m counting down the hours [crosstalk]
Justin: Dishwasher’s got to get packed. Washing’s got to go out. Basically, it’s sort of [unintelligible 00:40:24] my own work. I’ve got a phone call, blah, blah, blah.
Dr. Chalfant: Exactly. I mean, one obvious answer is just trying to streamline our allocation of time more so that when we’re with children, we’re really with children. We’re not spending that time thinking about other things as much as possible. We’re giving them undivided attention. If that’s for getting the table set, preparing meals, completing homework routines, whatever, the shower, bedtime routines, all that sort of stuff that we set aside. We, I suppose, sacrifice our other activities that we want to get to, to give them that full and undivided attention so that then we can be effective in those moments and have even split-second decisions made in the time that’s allowed for us then, but at least from a more level-headed perspective.
We can be more flexible then as well. We have the capacity to be more effective and more empathetic when we need to be. If we are trying to multitask as parents and manage the children at the same time as we’re on a work call, at the same time as we’re checking our emails, at the same time as we’re even not doing those things, but still really in our minds back at the office or onto tomorrow, then nothing that happens in that situation with our kids is really going to work truly well.
It is about trying to see parenting as a one task at a time, as in focus on kids first and then put other things aside and then come back to them later where you can give those things your undivided attention as well. It’s hard to do, to making that decision to sort of set aside your own stuff basically and give your attention to your kids whenever they need it, is a really difficult decision to make because there are so many competing demands on us these days. Ultimately, we can be more effective in both worlds, whether it’s work and childbearing if we do one thing well at a time. We’re not built for multitasking really, we’re actually built to focus on one task at a time. I think this idea of multitasking is really put us under unnecessary pressure.
Justin: Maybe we can talk about that as another because I’m sure there’s people that are thinking, “Oh no, we can all multitask.” Okay, brilliant. Just to recap, we don’t have to think of empathy and discipline as being polar opposites. That don’t get sucked into that world because there’s actually a great way to parent by using empathy at the right time and discipline at the right time. To be able to discern that is to actually create the time and by creating time is that you are focused as a parent, that when the children are now home from school and they are present with you, that you have to be present with them and that you do your best to so there may be things that you do like you literally put your phone somewhere where you can’t rush to get to it, the TV’s off, the radio’s off. You’re just observing as you go about your tasks, making dinner, getting things organized, observing the children doing homework, doing chores, or whatever that is. The key thing is that you’ve not, apart from the other things you’ve got to get done, you don’t have those additional distractions.
As you said as well, not just necessarily what a present, not like a phone is available to you. It’s also that if you’re catching yourself thinking about the meeting tomorrow, or the fact that it’s not dropping them to the bus line, it’s actually taking them to school because then after that, you’ve got to get onto the optometrist for that piece or go take the car in for a service that you say to yourself, right. Well, once they’re asleep, the adult tasks can then be focused on and this time, if I catch myself drifting off in that area, I have to be disciplined to say, no, the focus right now is on the children. Is that a good recap of [unintelligible 00:44:42]?
Dr. Chalfant: Absolutely, I think that’s a great recap. The take-home messages are discipline and empathy can go together. Discipline means more than negative discipline. It means positive responses as well and they’re really important. Discipline is really just teaching kids. Empathy, we’ve talked about how to deliver empathy. It’s more than just giving lip service. It’s actually putting yourself really in another person’s shoes and proving to them through your language that you can see how they’re feeling and you can see through there how they may be thinking, so they go together and they can work well together.
Then there’s also times of using both. That too much negative discipline is not a great thing and too much empathy, maybe not a great thing as well. When we want to discipline in terms of consequences and limit setting, we want to be boring and neutral so that we’re not giving too much attention to the situation. Then yes, we need to make decisions as parents to be truthful to ourselves and be honest with ourselves about really how effective are we being if we’re not allowing adequate time to parenting. The only way to really do that well and to be good flexible parents that can use an eclectic approach is to have an approach we’re using where we’re focusing on one thing at a time.
Justin: Cleaning that space. Okay. Wonderful, excellent. Well, thank you very much for a wonderful discussion on empathy and discipline.
Dr. Chalfant: I feel that was good for me.
Justin: Did you feel like it was–?
Dr. Chalfant: I’m feeling like that it was cathartic, yes, and tomorrow I’ll be a better parent.
Justin: Good. The weight is off the shoulders.
Dr. Chalfant: [unintelligible 00:46:22] sort of sorted out a few things in my own head as we’ve gone through.
Justin: All right. Excellent.
Dr. Chalfant: Before we go, a joke.
Justin: As always.
Dr. Chalfant: We have to end with a joke or my clients always ask me to end with a joke. This is one from my son’s joke book. Why do pandas like old movies?
Justin: I do not know why do pandas like old movies.
Dr. Chalfant: Because they are black and white.
Justin: Of course. Well, that’s a wrap for this episode of the Annie’s Centre Podcast. I’m Justin Kyngdon.
Dr. Chalfant: I’m Dr. Anne Chalfant. You can visit the Facebook page, which is @drannechalfant and leave me a comment or give me some idea about what you’d like to hear in any of our podcasts.
Justin: Our mission is helping families thrive and we hope this podcast has done just that for you. You will find Dr. Chalfant on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Search the hashtags, #drannechalfant, or #anniecentre Also, please leave a rating and review on the podcast app where you found us and tell your friends and family to do the same. Please subscribe to the podcast and leave comments. We really want to hear all of those and we will speak again soon.
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