Several parents have written to ask for tips on disciplining children from my recent article about my less-than-perfectly behaved child. It starts with reality. We want a strong-willed child, a leader amongst his peers, yet we expect this strong-willed leader to obey us unquestioningly. How is that possible? You can read the article here.
Though I am not a professional child psychologist/therapist, I write about discipline from the angle of a parent who has had five children and almost 30 years of being on the job. My way is not perfect and nor is it the only one, but it has stood the test of time, tested on five very different characters.
Here are my six strategies:
Partnership, not discipline.
Being a yogi, I believe it is the energy you bring into what you want to do. Thus, I always view this subject as a partnership between parent-and-child, rather than cold, hard, one-way-street discipline. It is about two parties working together to live harmoniously.
You would be surprised if you change your perspective!
When you change the way you look at things,
the things you look at change.
When my 16-year-old disappointed me with her behaviour, I took responsibility that the way I had chosen to raise her had brought us to this point, as per my article.
Note: it is counterproductive to play the blame-game. Move towards a problem-solving mindset instead.
2. Start from young.
I have written extensively about my decision not to babysit other people’s children. It comes from my own shortcomings – I have an intolerance for whiny, spoilt children. Past the age of 18 months, I strongly believe that children should know that NO MEANS NO.
As parents, we often think that our children’s behaviours are cute, especially in small children, but bear in mind two things: (1) Only cute to parents and (3) totally uncute past a certain age.
If we don’t start laying down the foundations to an 18-month-old about how our family works, imagine how difficult it would be for a four or six-year-old. If an 18-month-old objects to sitting in a car seat, how would you deal with that when he/she is four and able to unclip the safety belt?
Note: a healthy child will not die from tantrum and crying, and nor will it be mentally damaged by that.
3. Define boundaries.
Children need structure, because they feel emotionally safe when they know their boundaries. Establish no-go zones early. But don’t make them too many, or a child will grow up constricted and afraid to live.
For me, no-go zones are rudeness, disrespect and bullying. I don’t accept rudeness. I have, on many occasions, seen small children hitting out at their mothers in temper and shockingly (to me), the mothers shrugging it off. I have even seen a child doing this to his grandmother once. I will never let a child off this, even if he is tired, hungry, angry, etc, and by stopping this behaviour right from the start really saves a lot of disciplining problems later on.
These days, whenever I reprimand my children and they feel that I have been unjust, wrong, misinformed, etc, they would listen silently to my diatribe (admittedly with tightly pursed lips and flared nostrils) and then saying in even tones in their posh English accent, “With due respects, Mother, …….”
But most of all, teenagers need to know that enough is enough. Sue, we can have a dialogue about a particular issue, but when a parent says enough, it is enough. My daughter knows, despite the fact that she has a brain that is far superior to mine, that she has to sit down and be tutored by me, as I am not paying for a tutor.
That’s her face after a particularly bruising 85 minutes of chemistry with mum 🙂
4. By example.
I am an untidy person, therefore I cannot be too harsh on my children for being untidy. I have to change my behaviour first, because children’s eyes are always open to parental examples, even when their ears are closed to advice.
Team sports teaches children how to behave in society. I am a strong believer in that, and would urge parents to enroll children into football, rugby, netball, basketball, etc, teams. Little Princesses and Little Emperors need their rough edges knocked off by their peers, or they become intolerable.
If we show young children respect, they begin to learn this concept. Simple things like learning how to listen. Toddlers are self-centered (part of humankind’s evolutionary biology) so they have to be taught that the universe does not revolve around them only. This is a lesson that could take well up to 16 years. I recently had to remind my almost 17-year-old that.
Respect, I believe, is the foundation of your successful partnership. And without blowing my own trumpet, I would say that I have managed to raise babies with no paid help whilst at university, simply because these babies of mine understood that though they had a fun life, rules must be obeyed for the fun times to continue.
Happy children are easier to manage because they want the goodwill to continue.