In our recent past, physical punishment, or spanking, was often considered as the only way to discipline a child. Today’s attitudes towards discipline are rapidly changing and people who have been subject to such forms of punishment when young, are looking for alternative ways to discipline their own children.
It is a proven fact that children who are physically abused tend to develop low self-esteem and an attitude of self-unworthiness. It also teaches and perpetuates more violence, that is using violence to solve problems, an issue which is a concern in our present society. Physical punishment and violence should not be tolerated in any way – no form of violence on children is justifiable.
So how are we going to go about discipline towards our children? Are we going to lose them if we do not control them?
How are we going to maintain authority as parents?
And, mainly, what is discipline all about?
The following are some alternatives and possibilities which can be used when dealing with children, be it a parent, guardian, grandparent, or a person directly involved in the upbringing of a child.
Create a happy home environment
First and foremost, carers should first analyse their own behaviour. The best way is to create a positive, or happy, home atmosphere. The environment children grow up in effects their behaviour greatly. They are more likely to behave well if they feel they are loved and valued, kind to one another. Telling them how important they are is crucial in their growth of self-esteem.
They would behave better if adults that surround them are behaving well and treat each other with respect. Young children copy those behaviours they see around them. Therefore as adults we need to consciously ensure that our behaviour is positive. If we treat each other and our children with honesty and trust, then our children will respond by copying that behaviour. The need to reason things out and discuss issues and attitudes openly will greatly enhance mutual respect and understanding.
Of course we should correct our children only when they do mistakes. It is important to correct them when they do the mistake, since in this way we would be helping the child to distinguish between what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. However, it is equally important to praise children for their good behaviour. It will make a lot of difference to them, and they feel worthy. You will be reinforcing the good behaviour that you expect, even as simple as giving a hug, a kiss or a smile. A small example is telling the child how good s/he has been for picking up the toys and how much they have been responsible.
Time Out – Keeping calm and taking time for yourself
Many times, when getting home after work we might feel tired, and the last thing we would want is a temper tantrum from our child. If you cannot avoid one then the best solution is to get out of the situation immediately if you can, after explaining calmly to the child that you cannot deal with them right now because you are upset or angry. For instance, if you are in the midst of several things and cannot take time out, it is better if you ask for help, such as a spouse or a relative, who can take over the situation at present. But it is very important to discuss and reason things with your child what happened and what would you have expected of him or her.
Whatever way you choose, it is important that you calm down and find alternative solutions to the problem before confronting the situation again. In other words – take your time. Chill out and give yourself space to decide and reason out a strategy to implement – if possible together – you as a parent – and your child.
Separate the deed from the doer
Never tell a child that s/he is bad. This will influence directly his or her self-esteem. Try to make your child realize that it is not him/her that you don’t like but it is his/her behaviour or action that you don’t accept. Helping a child build a healthy self-esteem should be based on unconditional love, no matter what he/she does. Saying ‘ I don’t love you’ because your child has not behaved will make him feel unworthy and thus will impact directly on his self-esteem. Remember, you are one of the most important people in the child’s life, and whatever you say or do will affect him directly. So make it clear to your child that his/her behaviour is bad but you still love him/her, even if there is a consequence he/she has to pay for his misbehaviour. Be kind but firm.
Stating requests in the positive and using logical consequences in discipline
We often tend to correct our children with a negative statement, such as ‘you are not going to watch T.V. until you do your homework’. The first thing our children would be hearing is what they can’t do or they can’t have. Unfortunately we do this very often without ever realizing that we are preparing grounds for a tantrum or a fight.
However, just by changing or rephrasing what we want our children to do, will increase their cooperation. ‘You are welcome to watch TV when your homework is done’ will potentially give an incentive to do one’s homework, instead of seeing the homework as a punishment.
Always use logical, reasonable and attainable consequences related to one’s behaviour. This will teach your child responsibility and practicality. So, your son has broken a vase. Your instinct would be that of spanking him, which would teach him to blame it on others or lie so as not to be spanked next time. Instead you should teach your child to take responsibility, that is, ‘What will you do to repair or replace the vase? Or ‘How do you intend to make up for it?’. You are giving your child options, like paying for it or washing your car to repay it. So instead of having your child behave because he is afraid of you he will behave because he respects you. In this way the consequence will also be selected by the child and will therefore be age appropriate.
Making up with your child
We usually want to punish our children when they break an agreement we have made together. Instead of a punishment we can ask our child to come up with proposals of how to make up for it. Find time to discuss the proposals – and come to a decision together.
You have agreed with your adolescent daughter that she can go to a party at her friends’ but should be back home not be later than 10pm. She comes home later than agreed, you are angry and punish her by telling her that she will not be permitted to go again next time. Your daughter becomes irritable and uncooperative. Eventually you realize that it might have been a mistake. So you let your daughter calm down and tell her how betrayed you felt for not keeping her time. You discuss the importance of keeping her word next time. And then you ask her to make up for it. You decide together that tomorrow she will sort some photos in an album which have been running around the house. Your relationship has not suffered and you get your daughter thinking on keeping her word next time.
These are but a few examples on how we can discipline our children in positive ways. There is an endless list of ways on how to have our own children grow in a healthy environment, but basically it all depends on us as parents and educators to instil in our children a sense of worth and self-esteem. And the choice of our behaviour towards our children today will be making them the adults of tomorrow.