How To Discipline With Emotional Social Parenting (ESP)

Discipline with Emotional Social Parenting
The Big D – Discipline is hot in discussions, posts, and DM’s for parenting.  It’s such a tricky topic, and parents want to get it right for their kids.  I will discuss discipline based on a knowledge of emotional and social development.  Also, discipline that is based on the latest in neuroscience and brain development research.  Emotional Social Parenting (ESP) brings together these two areas.  ESP lets you curb your child’s unwanted behavior while still safeguarding his self-worth and self-esteem.
Before we dive into this tricky topic, please remind yourself:


  • I am a good parent, my child is a good child.
  • Disciplining my child is challenging.  It may be confusing at times with so many different ideas on discipline.
  • Kids behave like kids.  They don’t misbehave and do things to be bad.  They behave like kids, and the things they do are usually age-appropriate.
  • I have what I need within me.  I may need a little help and a reframe of how I view “discipline.”
Discipline with Emotional Social Parenting

What is the Difference between Discipline and Punishment?

Discipline: is to train and teach your child how to act under the rules. Said another way; to discipline is to set limits and to teach your child how to follow those limits.
Punishment: is to inflict a penalty. Punishment enforces discipline by inflicting physical pain or emotional pain, withholding or taking something of value from your child. Punishment-based discipline will often work in the moment. The root of punishment is Fear. Fear activates the part of our brains that control Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Faint. Your child will freeze in the moment and stop the behavior. But once the punishment is over, she will go back to repeating the behavior.

What are the Emotional Social Parenting (ESP) ways to Discipline?

These ESP ways to discipline are based on what neuroscience tells us about the developing brain. I will discuss each idea in more detail.
  • Give them a redo.
  • Know what behavior is age-appropriate.
  • Set boundaries around safety and undesirable behavior and allow all emotions.
  • Help your child name their big emotions.
  • It’s ok to let them cry
  • Be a super sleuth and H-A-L-T.
  • Use related consequences.
  • Be ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

How can Emotional Social Parenting Help me Stay and Not Walk Away When I'm Upset?

When your child is on the floor screaming like a banshee, some days you want to walk away.  If you walk away or ignore your child, you threaten their emotional connection to you.  You are sending them the message that they are “bad” and don’t deserve your presence and love.  They likely made a mistake or acted out or reacted unwisely.  As parents, we do it all the time.  Think about how would you might feel if your partner walked out of the room in anger because you forgot to pick up milk on the way home.  These are the times our kids need us most of all.
Time-outs are not a part of my ESP discipline plan.  When a child’s unwanted behavior results in a time out, she sits alone with her feelings.  She may feel she is bad and doesn’t deserve a parent’s love and attention even if the time-out is administered in a loving and connected way.  Time-outs send the message that a child having a hard time controlling their emotions will be forced to sit alone.  The aloneness leaves the child feeling emotionally abandoned.  Time-outs are ineffective, may lead to more bad behavior, and may prevent your child from developing healthy coping skillsTo help you stay and not walk away.  (survive the moment)
  • Put your right hand on your heart and your left arm across your belly.
  • Take a deep breath and blow it out slowly.
  • This deep breath activates the calm-down circuits in your brain. See my blog on Hot Cocoa Breath for more on why this works.
  • Repeat to yourself. I am a good parent. I can stay and not walk away.
    When your child calms down, this may seem like forever for some kids.
  • Offer some snuggles or a hug.

How Can a Redo Help my Child?

When your child made a mistake, acted out, or reacted unwisely. Help them calm down, and once they are calm enough, talk about what they could do instead next time. Practicing strategies will help prevent the next meltdown. Your child learns more effective ways to handle their big emotions. Remember that young children’s brains may need to develop more. Their big feelings will overpower them until their brain develops emotional regulation circuits. They need you to help them with co-regulation. New skills and habits take lots of practice, so be patient.

Why is it Important to Understand my Childs Developmental Abilities Before I Discipline Them?

Some things your child will do because it is appropriate for their developmental age. For example, it is normal for a young child to throw things. It may frustrate you, but they can’t help it because they don’t have the brain development to control it. When a young child gets frustrated or angry, their big feelings may come out by throwing an item. This doesn’t mean you don’t set boundaries for safety around throwing. 

Knowing what is appropriate development for your child helps you stay calm. Your calm will infuse their dysregulation with a feeling of safety. When a child feels safe they will calm down and regulate their emotions.  When you stay calm, remind them of the rules and then let it go; they will develop the brain connections for emotional regulation.  Remember, all feelings are ok.

Discipline with Emotional Social Parenting

How can I Set Boundaries for Safety While Allowing Big Feelings?

As your child’s caregiver, you won’t let your child do something unsafe. When your child is dysregulated, their big feelings often come out as a hit/bite/kick. If you don’t stop the behavior, it is terrifying to your child. Your child feels that his emotions are so big that not even the adults can stop him. Let your child know you understand his big emotions. Separate the feelings from the behavior. Say, “it is my job to keep everyone safe in this family. I won’t let you bite/hit/kick your sister. But, you can be as mad/ frustrated/ angry/ upset as you want.”

How do I Help my Child Name their Big Emotions?

This one is from Tracy Crutchlow author of Zero to Five (amazon affiliate) “Naming what our kid wants, thinks, or feels – without judgement – is the most powerful step in positive parenting,” she says. “You want ice cream. You want ice cream right now. You want vanilla with sprinkles! And I said we must eat dinner instead. That is making you feel really sad. Aww, sweetie. It feels sooooo disappointing.” We must see our role as helping our kids have their emotions.

When Should I let my Child Cry?

As a grandmother, I am triggered by my young grandchildren’s sudden and unexpected tears. It somehow feels worse than when I was the parent. When a child has big emotions of sadness, anger, and frustration, it comes out as a flood of tears. It’s hard to remain calm when your child is full of rage and dissolves in a flood of tears. But, children can’t turn off their emotions. They need you to keep them safe while they “feel their feelings” Wait it out and help them calm down. Take some deep breaths with them. Tell them, “I’m here with you.” Ride it out with them, and don’t yell or lecture. You can talk about it later after they are calm. 

Be a Super Sleuth and Think H-A-L-T:

All behavior is communication. So, what is your child trying to tell you? Take a minute and think HALT, are they:
  • Hungry
  • Angry because they are disappointed or jealous
  • Lonely or bored
  • Tired and overstimulated

Identifying and meeting these essential needs should be your priority. Does your little one need a snack, a snuggle, or a nap? Only by identifying the problem can you help your toddler fix it. A clear and consistent routine around meal and nap time may prevent a meltdown in the first place.

Why are Related Consequences Effective in Discipline?

Imagine the following scenerio for a minute:

Toddler #1 is busy building a block tower when toddler #2 goes over and tries to “help” toddler #1 build the tower. Toddler #1 doesn’t want help and shoves toddler #2 out of the way.
You yell, “Don’t push your brother.”
When toddler #2 again tries to help with the tower, toddler #1 shoves him harder this time, knocking him over.
You send toddler #1 to time out and tell him he can’t have a story before bed.
That evening when it’s bedtime, you tell toddler #1 he can’t have a story. Toddler #1 dissolves into an epic meltdown. You say, “there is no storytime because you didn’t stop pushing his brother earlier when I told you to. He continues to wail, “I want my stooooryeeeee over and over.

Why is toddler #1 having an epic meltdown? Two reasons:

First reason:
It is difficult for a toddler to recall events that happened hours earlier. Toddlers’ brains are still under construction. The connections for understanding time don’t get fully wired until the early grade school years. That’s also why your toddler can’t remember that bedtime comes after bath time, even though it happens every single night.

Second reason:

There is no connection between the behavior and the unrelated consequence. In a toddler’s brain, there is literally no connection. They are unable to connect no story with hitting brother hours ago.
For a consequence to change an unwanted behavior, it has to be related to the behavior.
In the above scenario:
Child #1 pushes child #2 (undesired behavior). You walk over and say to child #1, “It looks like you are having a hard time playing blocks with your brother. I won’t let you push your brother. I am putting the blocks away for today. (related consequences) lets go check on your brother.”
Child #1 learns; if I don’t want my blocks taken away, I can’t push my brother when he bothers me.

More examples of unwanted behavior and the related consequences.

Child runs into the street/child has to hold an adults hand
Child tears page from book/book goes up on a high shelf.
Child marks on the wall with crayons/crayons go away for the day.
The more you use related consequences to stop an undesired behavior, the better you will be at coming up with them. Your toddler will learn problem solving, self-confidence, and self-awareness in the process.

Be Ready to do it all Over Again Tomorrow.

Emotional Social Parenting (ESP) discipline takes lots of love, patience, and practice to reframe our views. Each child is different, and we often parent the way we were parented. So if you’ve used timeouts or spanking in the past or you’ve completely lost it with your kids. Give yourself some grace and a redo. Tomorrow is a new day to try out some of these new tools to help you parent the ESP way. 

To learn more about Emotional Social Parenting, ESP.