Withdrawing love to change behaviour is saying to the child, indirectly, that until you behave the way I want you to, I won’t love you/be near you/talk to you/play with you etc. I think it’s important to accept that like ourselves children won’t always act or feel like others would like them to or what would be most appropriate or convenient in the moment. Sometimes I don’t want to do something or feel the way dh would like but I still want to be treated with respect and dignity and not told to go away until I “choose” to feel different. With children I think it’s easy to forget that they are people too, small ones that will have a harder time understanding or choosing to behave a certain way. It can be hard at times, especially given that we have moods, needs and feelings too but actively loving and accepting our children no matter how they are behaving in the moment is a good goal.
When parents use time outs or other love withdrawal methods to punish, children learn to suppress their natural reactions or emotions for fear of recrimination. We should be offering our children safe, unconditional support when the are having sometimes difficult emotions or reactions.
I think it’s paramount to ensure the relationship or attachment is nurtured before looking at the child’s behaviour. In strengthening the relationship and attachment, the behaviour will be much easier to work with and won’t seem as big of a deal. “Bad behaviour” is also usually a sign that something is lacking in the relationship. When my dc trusts that I won’t get angry and drag them/force them/hurt them/make them etc when they aren’t acting the way I want them to then they are more willing to trust that I’ll try and help them through the tough moments. They won’t be as inclined to resist my “working with” them.
It takes two to have a power struggle. As adults and parents I think it’s our job to make sure we don’t contribute to the power struggle. Children are innately social and should want to follow our lead if we are for the most part good leaders. I think before tackling any tough moment with children we need to take a minute (or a few seconds) to check in with ourselves so we can be in the best space possible to help them. Offering yourself a little self empathy (aloud or in your head) can go a long way to letting you focus on the situation at hand in a clearer light. Things are so much harder to deal with when we are reacting with anger, resentment or annoyance. While these all are valid feelings they are perhaps better dealt with after the heat of the moment has passed and without blame to the child. They don’t make us feel any way.
Unconditional Parenting is a really great book on this subject. One of the most important messages that I think this book offers is to “work with” our children rather than “do to” them. Another attribute to Unconditional Parenting, which I think is a great frustration to many readers but I find encouraging, is that there is no “how to” or “do this if this happens” or “10 steps to parenting”. Every child and every situation is different and there is no one right answer. In fact, I think there are many respectful “working with” type answers or choices we can make with each situation. It’s just a matter of considering our perspective, getting creative and staying compassionate.