Does connection reinforce bad behavior?
There's a common misconception in our cultural conditioning that's worthy or your re-thinking.
Here it is: Responding to my child’s “bad” behavior with connection will reinforce the behavior, turn the parent into a doormat, the child into a narcissistic tyrant and lead us down the path of permissive parenting.
First, let’s get clear on Permissive Parenting. This approach offers high warmth and affection with low expectations and boundaries. Research shows that a permissive approach can result in negative outcomes for kids such as lack of achievement, poor decision making, increased displays of aggression, less emotional understanding, and higher potential for misconduct and substance abuse.
So yes, the path of permissive parenting is not in our child’s best interests. Let’s avoid that one!
Rest assured, this EQ - Connection based approach is a far cry from permissive parenting.
Here’s a simple scenario:
Our small child is crying her demands for a cookie. For whatever reason, we have determined that a cookie in this moment would not support our child - maybe her emotional state is letting us know that she’s already off balance internally and the cookie will only cause more imbalance.
A permissive parent might say yes to the cookie in order to appease the crying child.
An EQ based parent says no to the cookie and yes to the emotional fallout that may ensue. The EQ based parent holds the boundary of no cookie and brings warmth and connection forward to support the child to feel everything she feels in response to the ‘no’. An EQ based parent knows that what the child really wants (and needs) is not the cookie but restoration of her inner connection and understands that this happens best with an emotionally connected adult alongside.
In the EQ approach, we hold strong expectations for our kids to learn to take responsibility for their emotions and feel fully.
Another real-life example is the time my son refused to go to the dentist. The morning of the appointment he curled up in his loft bed and refused to budge. I had a few options. Old school methods tempted me to use the leverage of a consequence to get him out the door - maybe withhold access to something he values; or the flipside of that coin - offer a special treat as a reward once the appointment was over.
I struggled internally with what to do. I felt the societal pressure to make it to the appointment, not cause inconvenience for the clinic. However, my own need for authenticity rejected those options. I knew that while they might get my kid to the dentist today the long-term costs to his own inner alignment and our connection were high.
Given that my son’s system was telling him to stay put, I decided to honor his emotional truth of the moment and not seek to override his feelings.
Instead, I crawled up onto the loft and lay down beside him and brought my warmth and comfort forward. As I got closer and put my arm around him he began to cry big, shuddering tears. I could see this was going to take a while to release fully and I let go of the dentist agenda for that day and committed to supporting him all the way through his emotional clutter.
I value dental care for my kids but that could be rescheduled. His feelings were coming up now so now was the time for him to feel them. I could have gone the permissive route and said okay, we’ll skip the appointment for today and not gotten close to support his emotional process.
Supporting the emotional restoration process is not necessarily the “easy route”. It takes emotional fortitude, trust, and strong listening skills. Kids will not always allow themselves to feel fully (especially the older they get) it can be scary, chaotic, and overwhelming. If I had left my son alone in the loft that day he may have suppressed his emotions in order to carry on (that’s what our cultural conditioning and the experience of isolation teaches). By holding a strong container for him to feel and activating his release through my connection I supported him in the most beneficial way possible that day.
After a time, he came out the other end much clearer, aligned and aware of himself. He explained to me all about the fear he’d felt. He was fearful that he’d be judged at the dentist that maybe his teeth wouldn’t measure up.
Once the clutter of fear was gone it was a simple step for him to recommit to making it to the rescheduled appointment. He had a great visit to the dentist and even commented on the way out, “Wow, it feels really good to get my teeth cleaned!”
Back to the misconception, thinking that connection will reinforce the child’s behavior is assuming that the behavior is an intentionally, consciously created choice on the child’s part. In actuality, off-track behavior is always the result of inner disconnect. Consider the behavior as a big neon sign flashing - “Help! I’m out of alignment. Please guide me back to balance!”
Marshall Rosenberg, father of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) says that at the root of all upset emotions and off-track behaviors are unmet needs. To meet our child’s unmet needs we offer connection - the only true path to address the root causes under the behavior.
Hope this has been helpful!