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Connection before Correction


Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.Human beings are amazing creations. I am continually astonished by what I am learning about the brain and its sophistication, resilience, and ability to shift and change as we grow. It's also interesting to hear neurobiologists and brain researchers saying things Adlerian therapists have said for almost a century. For example, brain research has revealed that one of the most important influences on mental health and adult personality is not just what happens to a person, but what that person believes about what happened. In other words, the meaning we attach to our memories and experiences is far more important than the experience itself. This is one reason why siblings rarely act or see the world the same way they make different meaning from their shared experiences. Here's another example. Researchers now tell us that the human brain is literally hardwired to connect. Odd as it sounds, your brain does not exist just within your own skull. In fact, human beings who are forced to live in isolation from other humans are almost never healthy or happy. Our brains were made to connect with other brains, and it is through those connections that we learn and become healthy, stable people. I spend a great deal of time working with parents in parenting classes, workshops, coaching sessions, and in my therapy practice. Most parents walk through the door with concerns, problems, and issues they have been unable to resolve on their own. Often, they've read the books and talked to friends and families. They've tried out different strategies and approaches; they've been kind, they've been firm, they've given privileges and they've taken privileges away. All too often, those parents sit on my couch shaking their heads sadly. "We've tried everything," they say, "and it doesn't work. What should we do now?" Sometimes, the reason discipline and parenting strategies are ineffective is not that the tools are wrong it's that they're built on the wrong foundation. Before you can work effectively with a child to teach boundaries and limits, life and social skills, and instill character, you have to have a solid relationship a real connection with that child. As Jane Nelsen, the author of Positive Discipline says, "connection before correction." Impatient, busy parents sometimes want handy-dandy tools with which to manage their child's behavior but before you can correct a child, you must connect with a child. And that takes time, patience, and energy. Connection is more than time spent driving in the car, watching TV in the same room, or dropping a child off at sports practices or play groups. Connection means that your eyes and your heart light up when you see your child. I talk to young people every day who appear to know next to nothing about their parents. Oh, they know the rules (although they may not choose to follow them). But they don't know their parents. I'll ask, "What does your dad do for a living?" and they can't really tell me. "Something in construction, I think," one young lady informed me vaguely. "Or maybe business. I'm not sure." Kids don't know where their parents grew up or much about their early experiences. Not surprisingly, they often feel they have nothing in common with their parents no real connection. Parents, too, struggle to understand the world their children inhabit. It is an astonishingly different world from the one most parents grew up in, a place of social networking and video games and online connection that takes the place of face-to-face connection. Many children are woefully short on genuine relationship including relationship with their parents. By the way, this concept is also true for teachers. Before you can manage classroom behavior, you must have a genuine connection with your students. You don't need to love them thank goodness but you do need to create an environment of caring. When students believe "my teacher doesn't like me", nothing good is going to happen in the classroom. If you want to have influence in a child's life, you must first connect with her. You have built-in connection tools, by the way; they're on the side of your head and they're called "ears." One of the best ways to connect is simply to listen. You can also share your own memories and stories not rules and advice, but information about who you are, what you think, and how you feel. Building connection takes time, of course, which means you have to make it a priority. Real relationships don't happen in anyone's spare time they have to be consciously nurtured. But there's no better parenting tool in the world. If you have a heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with your child, you will be far more effective in correcting behavior, teaching values, and encouraging healthy decisions. It's one of the few things in life I can absolutely guarantee: connection always comes before correction. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.

Danna has been with KUNR Public Radio since 1995. She started as a weekend announcer, then full time jazz host and in 2008 became the local host for NPR’s Morning Edition.