Written by Dr. Helen Andrews.
Ask most people what they think of when they hear the word ‘discipline’ and they think about rules, punishments, maybe setting boundaries. However, the Latin origin of the word is disciplina, meaning teaching and learning – think about Jesus’ Disciples and what discipline people study at University.
So when we think about how to effectively discipline our children, we need to think about what we want them to learn. To do well at school, in social groups and in society at large, they do need to know how to behave – what not to do, but also what to do.
So yes, we do need to set boundaries and stick to them, we do need to say ‘no’ at times and we may need to withdraw our children if things get out of hand. But we also need to pay attention to all the things they do right and praise them when they make an effort.
A few scenarios to make it practical:
‘Stop it! Stop doing that!’ – instead of stopping a behaviour and leaving a void, we need to replace it with something. It is always best to say what you want, rather than what you don’t want.
So, ‘Stop running off’ becomes ‘Stay close to mummy’.
And, ‘Don’t take his toy’ becomes ‘Take turns’.
Another common error goes like this:
‘Can you stop doing that, please?’ or ‘Can you tidy up now?’ These are questions, which implies they have a choice. Especially when your child is going through that ‘no’ stage, you’re just inviting a negative response. If you are issuing a command ,then you expect them to do as they are told.
So, ‘Do you want to bring me your shoes?’ becomes ‘Please, bring me your shoes’.
‘Shall we go to bed now?’ becomes ‘It’s time to go to bed now, come with mummy’.
Remember to praise every time they do what you say – they will feel good about themselves and are more likely to do it again. Be clear about exactly what they’ve done that you like:
So, ‘Good boy’ becomes ‘Good boy for coming when I told you to’.
‘Well done’ becomes ‘Well done for putting all the bricks away’.
This is called positive parenting and if you are able to do it most of the time, then you will have far fewer times when you need to manage challenging behaviour.
Your child will, of course, have a meltdown from time to time. There are two main types. It may be a protest as they haven’t been able to get their own way. Alternatively, they may be overwhelmed by strong feelings, because they are tired or hungry, and they just can’t regulate themselves at that time.
If they are overwhelmed, then manage them by scooping them in a big hug and consoling them. You may need to think about rest or food or perhaps a cuddle will calm them.
If they are protesting to get their own way, you have two options. If you stand by what you said, and you have the time and energy to see through it, then stand your ground. Don’t give them what they are demanding – either distract them or ignore them (whilst keeping an eye on safety). It may take some time, but they will quieten. When they have calmed down, go back to something fun and positive. You don’t need to talk about it; you’ve shown them that tantrums don’t result in them getting their own way.
If you haven’t got the time or energy, or actually you don’t stand by what you said (maybe you realise it is an hour till dinner and they can have a biscuit), then explicitly change your mind. It is not ‘Oh go on then, you can have a biscuit’, which effectively says, ‘I give in, you win, have what you want’. You need to retain the authority and control in the relationship, so instead say, ‘I’ve changed my mind – I have decided that you can have a biscuit’. The result is the same but the power balance is where it needs to be.
Some parents are worried about taking control and wonder whether young children should be allowed to have what they want. My view is that we want a child who feels safe in his relationships at home and who feels positive about himself. Then he will feel confident to explore and embrace the world around him. To have a positively focussed relationship with clear boundaries (that will change and develop as your child does) is the best way to achieve this.
Dr Helen Andrews is on the Toddle About Panel of Experts. She is a Clinical Psychologist with over 15 years experience working with children and young people. Through her business, Family Matters in Warwickshire, she helps parents when they can see that their child is struggling with their emotions, behaviour or development.
Contact Helen on 01564 795337 or find out more at www.familymattersinwarwickshire.co.uk