It’s important to stay calm when you’re trying to get kids to listen to you – you’ll be rewarded with better behavior
Hands up to those of you who have never yelled at your child when they’re having a meltdown because you’ve refused to serve them biscuits for breakfast. Or because you’ve refused to buy them a chocolate or a packet of sweets at the shops? Or because you’ve insisted they switch off the TV and go to bed? No show of hands? We’re not surprised. It sometimes feels as if our children have only one goal in mind, and that is to make us lose our cool.
Disciplining them can be really hard, and doing so without getting angry is even harder.
It helps to bear in mind that the word “discipline” comes from the Latin word “disciplina”, which does not mean “to punish” but “to teach.” So, disciplining children means we have to teach them acceptable behavior – and the first step is to put rules and boundaries in place. Experts agree that kids feel safer and more confident if they know exactly what is allowed and what is not – even a baby can start understanding their boundaries.
Boundaries and rules create structure and predictability in the home, while a lack of them leads to chaos.
Step two is that children must be taught that once they overstep their boundaries, there will always be consequences, such as no TV for a week.
It’s also important to discipline ourselves to be assertive – rather than aggressive – when reacting to misbehavior. When rules are broken, we must calmly put in motion the consequences our children know to expect.
Although babies don’t yet understand the relationship between actions and consequences, you can remove them from unwanted activity with a firm “no!” You can also distract them with something else.
From about three years old, children start understanding consequences, and at that age, you can also have discussions with them about their behavior.
THREE STAGES OF DISCIPLINE
1. ESTABLISH RULES AND BOUNDARIES
This helps children feel secure as they know what to expect. It’s important that both parents discuss the rules beforehand so you are united in what the consequences will be when they’re broken.
Lay down a few simple rules. Let your kids know that obeying them is not negotiable. Rules can include:
Regular bath and bedtimes
Have a set time for bathing, going to bed, and getting up, especially during the week. Even teens need at least eight to 10 hours’ of sleep. You can negotiate a more flexible sleeping time over the weekend.
Time to eat
Put the food out for a reasonable amount of time and then put it away until the next meal. Don’t force your child to eat, as that could sow the seeds of eating problems later in life.
Children from 17 months can learn how to tidy up, such as putting their toys, books, or crayons away. Teach them how to do it and praise them for doing it right or without you having to ask them to.
Have a designated place where they can do homework without distractions like TV. Kids should sit upright at a table. For primary school children, this should be before 7 pm. If they don’t have homework, they can revise what they learned that day. Let your child understand they can’t do anything else until their homework is completed and you’ve checked it. Learning how to be neat and organized at home helps kids to do the same at school.
Being respectful and showing good manners
Help your child understand that you are the authority figure in the home and not their friend. They must also develop respect for others, including younger siblings.
2. BE ASSERTIVE, NOT AGGRESSIVE
This is important when you give commands. Assertiveness involves 70 % body language and 30 % words.
Be respectful, but don’t beg your kids to do what they’re required to do. Go down to their level, physically. Use their name, not an insult such as “you lazy brat.”
Speak in a firm voice and put your command in a time frame. For example, say, “Thomas, please tidy up your room, now.”
3. TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION
Take immediate action when your child doesn’t respond to an assertive command.
The focus is on the action, not punishment, which has a negative connotation. The action depends on the nature of the offense and the age of the child. Options include time out (sending them to their room for a short while) or taking away privileges ( for example, reducing TV or gaming time, grounding for teens, taking away their mobile phone for a set period, or reducing their pocket money).
Keep the action appropriate to the nature of the offense and the age of the child. For example, taking away their pocket money for three months is unreasonable. Time out should last as many minutes as the child’s age: for example, two minutes for a two-year-old.
Short-term actions are more suitable and effective.
WHY DISCIPLINE IS IMPORTANT
Children who grow up without discipline will never learn proper boundaries, both within themselves and with other people. This means that as teenagers and adults they won’t understand what’s appropriate or not.
When parents give in all the time, it shows a lack of respect for themselves and for their children. Children will struggle to respect themselves if they have parents who don’t respect them.
One can also go too far. The result of excessive discipline (or even abuse) will lead to children struggling with self-respect.
Abuse does not only refer to physically hurting a child – it is also abusive to insult your child with words. Children who grow up in an abusive home might feel that whatever they do is never good enough. This could lead to huge challenges with self-esteem and risky behavior later in life. Kids who grow up with this style of parenting might also try to always please their parents, making it difficult for them to learn to think and act for themselves.
Be open with your kids when you make a mistake. It will encourage them to cooperate, and they will appreciate your honesty.