Enduring the pain of discipline

Last Updated 19 September 2014, 16:42 IST

Disciplining children has become a controversial subject. Parents today are often confused about effective ways to set limits and instill self-control in kids. Mary Chelladurai sets the record straight.

We cannot protect our children from life. Therefore it is essential that we prepare them for it, wrote Rudolf Dreikurs in Children: The challenge. One of the ways parents get on with the preparation is to discipline the child. 

More often than not, the word ‘discipline’ is equated with punishment and control. But its true meaning is to impart knowledge and skill. There is a great deal of controversy today about the appropriate ways to discipline children, and parents are often confused about effective ways to set limits and instill self-control in children.

Over four decades of research in behavioural sciences has reiterated that a child’s behaviour should be separated from the child itself. Calling a child who has strewn his toys “careless” or “a slob” won’t get the toys back into its place nor teach him appropriate behaviour. 

Instead, this can leave the child with an unhealthy self-image and probably, end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The ultimate goal of discipline, write Jerry Wyckoff and Barbara C. Unell, in their book Discipline without shouting or Spanking, should be self-control and self-sufficiency both, for parents and children. Children may be miniature in size, but they are capable of thinking and understanding. Young children have their own needs, desires and feelings. During the first five to six years of life, they struggle to become independent human beings and often, rebel against limits and boundaries. 

So, as parents, the task of disciplining kids becomes all the more challenging. It’s prudent to use positive discipline techniques; practice empathy, trust, understanding, patience and respect as the foundation for instilling boundaries. The pre-school years are the prime years of life, a crucial time to guide and teach children right and acceptable behaviour.Here go a few simple tips to positively discipline children:  

n Tow the rules in line with the child’s age and developmental milestones. Little Children can be compared to new drivers; they are yet to learn the rules of the world. Just like following the rules of the road keeps the driver safe, we have to set favourable limits in the child’s world so that the little one can understand and internalise acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour.   

n Use simple competitive techniques to get the child on the road to discipline. For example, while requesting your toddler to keep his shoes in the foot-rack, tell him you will count till ten, and start your count slowly and speak encouragingly: It is seven now and going to be eight! Children love to win, and this will help him race against your count. Surely, the child will run up and do the task. Praise him, genuinely. Please don’t overdo it.

n Let praise or rebuke be directed towards the behaviour, not the child. As parents, we strive to change unacceptable behaviour to acceptable one. So, the praise or disapproval should be for the child’s behaviour, because that is what we are interested in encouraging or changing.

n Give rewards or small incentives for appropriate behaviour. When you ask the child to do her routine activities like getting ready for the bath or getting dressed-up, try to make it interesting and anticipating. For example, when you have finished your bath, I can read you a story or you can watch your favorite TV channel. Be careful never to use “if”, instead use “when”. “If” leaves open the possibility for the “what if I don’t do” question.

n Set clear boundaries. This will help the child understand expectations and anticipate the consequences of her behaviour. Establishing and enforcing rules is an effective method to motivate positive behaviour. If you have been pushed to the point of needing to punish the child, do not revert to further discussion. The time for discussion has passed and now is the time to act firm.

n Transfer control and authority to a neutral figure. Use a timer, for example, when you want the child to get ready for bed. This will minimise parent-child conflict.

n Little children need attention and close supervision. So be there, as this will help avoid behavioural errors to go uncorrected. Always leave bad behaviour to history and stop bringing it up every now and then.

n Time-out is a powerful tool. Use it wisely. When there is willful inappropriate behaviour, take the child away from the situation and make her sit still for a short period. The duration correlates to the age of the child (approximately one minute for each year, up to five minutes).     

(Published 19 September 2014, 16:42 IST)

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