Disciplining your child doesn’t always come easy. Let MH fill you in on the strategies that work.
WORDS DR NICOLA DAVIES
The word discipline suggests control, but what good parents try to establish is the ability for children to control themselves – to delay gratification and consider the feelings and needs of others. The best way for kids to learn what is appropriate is by learning correct behaviour from their parents. For example, if a child is harassing a family pet, rather than shouting “Leave the animal alone,” get up and show the child a little trick. Demonstrate how the cat will purr if you stroke it a certain way, or the dog will wag its tail if you talk to it kindly and scratch behind its ears. Do keep an eye on this behaviour, as children who are consistently cruel to animals and other children may need expert help to prevent the behaviour from escalating.
Here are some other strategies that work.
There are strict parents who insist on their children conforming to certain rules, and permissive ones for whom pretty much anything goes. Then there are the parents who prefer to discipline themselves rather than their child, by ensuring they are consistent, fair and open to discussion. Establishing consistency is vital. If you think it is hilarious the first time your child flings pumpkin onto the wall or your partner’s face, but reprimand them the next time it happens, they will become confused because you haven’t established consistent guidelines.
With democratic parenting, children are encouraged to think of the consequences of their actions and make socially responsible choices.
Democratic parents encourage kids to be cooperative and teach them how to deal with stress.
They realise that kids want to be liked so they show them how adapting their behaviour
to that of the majority of the class or group will help them gain friends
and provide positive reinforcement.
When their child has problems at school with other kids, or if they get poor grades, democratic parents try to listen and work out solutions with their child.
To Spank or Not to Spank?
Many parents have resorted to a mild slap for discipline; however, Yale University’s Alan Kazdin, professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry points to the facts regarding physical punishment, as supported by research. In a home where excessive punishment is administered, studies have indicated that the child’s immune system is permanently altered through this early stress, putting them at greater risk of early death from chronic respiratory disease, cancer, and heart disease. This highlights the importance of finding other ways to modify unacceptable behaviour.
Reinforce the Positive Instead of the Negative
If there is a certain behaviour a parent would like modified – for example, their child spending too much time watching television – then instead of arguing, offer alternative activities, such as dancing to music, or paper and drawing materials. For this to be successful, you may need to sit with the child and co-create; often, simply giving them the tools doesn’t work.
It’s much easier and quicker to say, “Stop doing that” or “Don’t touch,” but showing them why works far better and means you don’t have to repeat yourself endlessly. Also, taking the time to help a child understand important concepts will help to cement them in their mind.
Kids switch off from long speeches; there is so much to discover in their worlds that their attention spans are short, so keep explanations brief. Show rather than tell.
Understand the Need to Assert Independence
Children begin to assert their will as they grow, so if you give an instruction like, “Wash your hands” the response may well be, “I don’t want to.” The way to resolve this is to avoid giving them something they can push back against. Instead say, “It’s time for dinner, let’s go and wash our hands together.” If the child still rebels, they will need to learn the consequences – no dinner until hands are clean.
Don’t Fall into the Cute Trap
Kids will switch on the charm when they have been naughty to avoid chastisement. So, if you’ve made what you feel is a fair decision, then be resolute no matter how much they try to “make up” to you. It may be hard, but they have to learn that actions have consequences.
Regular Bedtimes are Important
One area where young children often need discipline is with keeping to regular bedtimes. Research conducted by Professor Yvonne Kelly of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, UK, and her associates, shows a link between bedtimes in the early childhood years and the cognitive test scores of seven-year-olds. They looked at 11,178 children and found that reading, maths, and spatial ability scores were lower for children who did not have a regular bedtime.
Make bedtime something to look forward to –a time to cuddle up with a parent
and read a special book together that doesn’t come out at any other time.
Give them a chance to talk about their day and be ready to listen, without jumping in or interrupting. Let your child work through their fears, aspirations and misgivings with well-placed assurances, leaving them feeling loved and secure.
A child’s sense of justice is highly developed, so if you establish fair strategies to help them discipline themselves, you can look forward to a child who is cooperative, self- controlled and adaptable. Then, when other parents ask you how you do it, you can give them some helpful guidance and tips.