A gentle approach to disciplining kids

Last Updated : 01 July 2015, 16:27 IST
Last Updated : 01 July 2015, 16:27 IST

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Positive discipline is about helping your child learn positive values and develop social skills for life. It may help to think about what you are aiming for as a parent. Getting your child to do what they’re told right now may seem critical in the heat of the moment, but unquestioning obedience is probably not on your list of top adult qualities you aspire to.

Instead, most parents aim to raise a young person who is responsible, but also adaptable, adept at compromising and negotiating, skilled at communicating and able to flexibly think their way out of problems. These are exactly the kind of traits positive discipline encourages. Positive discipline involves parenting in a warm, kind and respectful way with fair, firm boundaries and relevant, reasonable consequences.

Using positive discipline
Positive discipline must be given in the context of a warm, positive and loving environment. The more positive attention and encouraging comments you give your child, the more they will respond to disapproval. Look out for all examples of desirable behaviour and comment approvingly, such as “Wow, you waited so quietly when I was on the phone. That was so patient of you!”

Choose your battles. Constant nagging and criticism makes children tune out. Decrease the number of commands given to those that are most important. Ignore minor misbehaviour and focus on the things that really matter. When you make requests, use a polite, respectful and positive tone. Ask yourself, “If someone spoke to me in this way, would I feel like obliging?” Avoid sarcasm threats, criticism, labelling, teasing and shouting.

After making a request, allow time for your little one to respond. If you keep nagging them, they will learn to ignore you the first few times you ask for anything. When making requests, state what you want to happen, not what you want to stop. Every time your child complies with a request, praise him/her.

If your child doesn’t do as you ask, ask again more firmly. This gives your child a chance to change their response. If they still don’t respond, you may choose to use impose a relevant consequence. So if your little ones carry on throwing a toy at their sister, after being asked to stop, take the toy off for half an hour.

If your children get upset and lose control of their feelings, don’t dismiss their concerns – this will probably make them more frustrated and more likely to act up. Instead, show concern and empathy, for example “I know you were really looking forward to going swimming; so no wonder you’re so disappointed it was cancelled”.

With older children, a problem-solving approach can be really effective. In any situation posing physical danger, intervene immediately to set limits, but simultaneously connect by empathising. “The rule is no hitting, even though she made you really mad by teasing like that. Let's sit down and talk about this.”

Listen to your child’s ideas, respect their feelings and praise practical solutions. Agree on a mutually acceptable, feasible solution, like, “You don’t like doing your homework now. Would you be fine to do it after your tennis class?” At times, every parent feels overwhelmed and frustrated and on the edge of imposing a reactive, harsh discipline. When you feel like this, it can be helpful to take time out yourself (making sure your child is safe). This is also a great way to model appropriate behaviour to your child.

Make sure you’re not too hard on yourself. It’s easy to be self-critical and dwell on the situations in which you weren’t happy with how you disciplined your child. Instead, take time at the end of each day to remind yourself of times you handled things well and think about what positive things that says about your parenting skills.

Above all, talk and listen to your children every day even if it is for just few minutes. Facilitate communication. Every word, facial expression, gesture, or action on the part of a parent gives the child some message about self-worth. It is just that so many parents don’t realise what messages they are sending. So it is important to become aware of what you are doing, knowing that your children would emulate you.

Published 01 July 2015, 16:27 IST

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