Imagine you live in a high-rise flat and you have a toddler. What’s the first thing you do when your toddler starts crawling? You install safety gates and take other physical safety measures. You ensure that the balcony doors are always locked and the key put away safely. You may even barricade the borders. You pull your child away from the potentially fatal zone and keep reinforcing, “No means no.”
Even when your child rolls his toy onto the balcony and cries to be allowed to go after the toy, you will say, NO. Of course. He could cry until the cows come home, but no means no, and the sooner he learns, the better.
After a few years, your toddler learns to live with the boundaries you set. He may even be happy and content with life within your red lines. As he grows older, you explain to him and he begins to see the rationale behind setting up the barricades: they were for his own good. After he reaches a certain age, you may even be comfortable removing the barricades altogether.
This is the best analogy I can think of for discipline. A great number of people have commented over the years about how relaxed my children’s father and I are about our children, even in their teenage years. Basically, we have very few hard laws that they have to obey without no compromise, and these laws were established early on, namely in toddlerhood, at the same time we established that imaginary blockades around danger zones in our house. We can still have lots of fun, love and boisterousness within the boundaries. In fact, we have lots of those, because they know the boundaries.
One of my children has sensory integration disorder, which is on the autism spectrum. Of course I would have loved to be easier on him – to allow him to go to bed later, get up later, eat when he wants, play all he likes – but the reality was, I was a full-time university student with three other small children. He had to live within the boundaries, despite his challenges. He had to get up and get ready by 7.30am every morning to go to the university creche, had to eat at mealtimes because I had to do my assignments after dinner, and he absolutely had to go to bed at the set bedtime because I had to get up at 6am to get everyone ready before a long day ahead. I could not afford to cut him any slack.
But actually, he did not find staying within the red lines difficult: it was his high-spirited older brother who found our house rules a big issue, especially when he turned 17 and was allowed to drive. But I stuck on doggedly with the discipline, because it is all about respect (being Asian, that’s a big deal to me – you don’t mess me around, kiddo).
Recently, Britain’s ‘strictest’ school made the headlines by being rated the top school by OFSTED (the benchmark that state schools are measured by). The school is renowned for its ‘no excuse’ behaviour policy.
Does that mean the students in the school are too scared to fart?
Quite the contrary. OFSTED inspectors noted that the students had a good attitude towards learning and the school demonstrated “lively and engaging teaching”. You can read about Michaela Community School here.
“Pupils are readily appreciative and caring. They acknowledge enthusiastically what members of the school community have done well and generously celebrate the successes and achievements of others,” the report notes.
And that’s the school without sporting facilities and luxuries, which is doing well, thank you very much. Mostly because students get detention for forgetting pencils, making faces at teachers or talking along the corridors. Me, I am a strong believer in red lines, especially in the early years. Definitely. Nothing worse and more off-putting than a spoiled, over-indulged toddler, no matter how cute he or she looks.
If you want to read more about boundaries, love, kindness and mindfulness, please go to my new book website dedicated to younger children. You might find this article I wrote about screaming fits, tantrums and meltdowns interesting (hint: zero tolerance). You can read the article here.