When I was a punitive parent, I had a “script” of sort. When child did X then I said or did Y.

Leaving that behind was hard because all of a sudden I didn’t know what TO do, just what I did NOT want to do.

We DO want to get to the heart of the child, the struggles behind the behavior, and when there is sin, confront it gently and appropriately. But that is complex and in the midst of energy and chaos and several different kids having different needs. . . well, it’s hard to not have an automatic response!

While there is no one-size-fits-all response to every situation in parenting, I found that it really helped to collect tools and scripts — and write them down or post them on the fridge or make a mantra of sorts, like “Connection before Correction.”

One of the “mantras” that helped me most especially right as we were leaving behind punitive parenting was “Hug & Pray.”

When my kids (especially toddlers or preschoolers, but also older kids) are not complying or start having a meltdown, I like to pull them onto my lap and hug them. The hug helps calm me and calm them. It gives us a moment to reconnect and have that physical affection that helps put the big emotions into context. And I pray for wisdom. . . sometimes silently, sometimes out loud with them, so they see that I am not perfect but want to do the best thing. We both calm down usually, and then can address whatever situation brought up all the big feelings or disobedience.

I can remember so vividly the first time I used this with a 3yo (who is now 18!) and just how peace washed over me as I prayed. I needed to connect with my son and with the Lord. I don’t always have the peaceful response, but it is still one of my primary parenting tools.