How many of us have said this? C’mon, be honest. I have. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping the reaction would be when I threatened my boys with this. Maybe if I threaten just one more time they might listen? In the meantime, the eldest was probably thinking that he had better make sure that I don’t catch him next time then!
There are so many variations of discipline. As a parent of a pre-schooler, it is hard to choose which method is best. So you ask around. Some parents puff their chests out in pride because they have this discipline thing perfected. All bad behaviour can be fixed with a good old hiding! The trick is to scare them into submission. Other parents answer nervously because they know that they are doing a terrible job; they are just hoping that no one notices. So they give you a story or two of the few times that they accidentally made the right judgement call. Then you get the gems who lose their cool at home, in a way that they would never admit, but in public it’s just the evil eye and a promise of bad things to come, spoken through clenched teeth. The free spirits that would rather die than restrict their child’s behaviour are something else! That’s the parent of the little boy who is currently climbing on the house roof, about to become the next emergency room casualty. Everyone has their own way of disciplining and they all have guaranteed tips and tricks of the trade to share, so you land up trying bits of it all and none of it works!
Which form of discipline would work best for your child? That’s the question you should be asking. The little individual that you are trying to mould into a successful member of society is just that, an individual. There is no method that will work with every type of personality out there. But there are however a few methods when used in conjunction with each other, and with the right balance between them, that can make a good foundation to start on.
Please do keep in mind though that this is just a guideline. A few tips and tricks of the trade learnt from years of experience. There is no set rule as to what works and what doesn’t. This is just one drop of information in a whole big Olympic size swimming pool full of information. If you are going to take a swim in that pool, be prepared, it gets deep. So let’s stick to the shallow end for now and get you ready for the plunge if you decide to dive deeper.
The first one is positive reinforcement. Ever heard of it? The dictionary reads that it is ’the process of encouraging or establishing a pattern of behaviour by offering a reward when the behaviour is exhibited’. So basically what it means is that the more you reward good behaviour, the more of it you should get. (This works for all age groups, even adults!) Condition your child to want to act in a way that has positive consequences. Now, these rewards don’t always have to be materialistic. There are only so many sweets that you can offer for good behaviour before the kid’s teeth and weight become affected in a not-so-positive way. Never mind the fact that a sweet might not remain a motivating factor in the child’s aim to behave. Vary your rewards. Tailor-make them to fit the child. You have no idea what power a touch from your hand and a praising comment can do! Even a pat on the head or a gentle shoulder squeeze, when behaviour is acceptable, is classed as positive reinforcement. Find as many opportunities as possible to positively reinforce if you are dealing with a difficult child. If the child is sitting still, even for 30 seconds, when normally they would be running circles around the dining room table at supper time, use that opportunity to make a big fuss of the good behaviour. If they comply with a given instruction without you having to nag, then use it!
I truly believe that for every negative action that needs to be addressed, you need to follow it up with at least 2 positive reinforcements. It’s going to keep you busy. It’s a long, very time-consuming behavioural conditioning technique. But consider this, would you rather have a child’s good behaviour be a part of who they are or have it be a reaction in response to a threat or punishment? You are not always going to be there to catch them doing something they shouldn’t and as they get older they will realise this. So your aim should be to get them to want to behave. The reward of the pride that they feel in themselves must heavily outweigh the disappointment they will feel if they misbehave.
Now I am not meaning that you should ignore all the bad behaviour. That would be leaning a little bit too far over into the free spirit parenting role. But you can’t always focus on the negative behaviour (Scare tactic parent) or take action when the situation suits you (evil eye parent). No matter what your beliefs are with regards to a hiding/spanking/pakslae, it’s now illegal. So if your hand starts itching when your child is misbehaving, put it in your pocket or sit on it.
There are other ways in which you can address negative behaviour. These consequences must be age appropriate though. It’s quite pointless to ground your 3-year-old. Withholding an after meal treat might not be that effective with your teenager. All that might get you is a smirk and a mumbled ‘whatever’. Your child needs to learn that there are negative consequences to negative actions but being locked in a cupboard or sent to bed without supper is not what I mean. Limiting access to a favourite toy or pastime (TV) seems to have quite an effect on children. Did you know that ignoring a temper tantrum is also a form of negative consequence? Often the wobbly they are throwing is to get attention. So don’t give them the attention their negative behaviour is seeking.
No one knows your child as well as you. You know what makes them tick. Well, most of the time you do. Use that knowledge to formulate a plan that works for your child. Fill it with loads of positive reinforcement. Don’t expect your child’s behaviour to be exemplary. You are setting yourself, and your child up for serious disappointment. They need to learn from their mistakes and the consequences that follow. Just as they will learn that the alternative is better.
There are probably more than a few of you reading this while thinking that it’s easier said than done and you are right. But no one said that parenting would be easy; so chin up, take a deep breath and carry on finding the moments where you can show your child that good behaviour is worth the effort. Just like all the hard work you are putting into raising them will be worth the results.