Advice

Advice   Anne Cawood.

EFFECTIVE DISCIPLINE

I know that the issue of effective discipline has become somewhat boring and possibly over- discussed! Many parents sigh when the topic is brought up – and seem to almost switch off. I have been the speaker at a couple of recent parent discussion events,  and was reminded  how challenging the issue of effective discipline  can be for many parents. After a full hour of what I felt was clear and basic input on the differences between old-fashioned, harsh and punitive punishment and a more respectful and appropriate understanding of the true meaning of discipline, some of the questions at the end of the talks, proved that many parents  had found it difficult to grasp the message I had tried so hard to impart!
It is challenging to confront some of the underlying messages we have all absorbed from our parents and grandparents. After all, for many of us, the only preparation we had for being parents, was the way we were parented! As well-meaning and loving as our parents may have been, and no matter how well their methods may have worked then, there is just no doubt that we need to carefully examine some of the out dated methods that  will not prove effective for the challenges facing our children in the 21st century.  And the issue of positive discipline is the most urgent, in my opinion. 
 
Discipline derives from the word “ disciple “– someone who teaches, guides and leads by example.Punishment is harsh and relies on external control. Discipline in the form of boundary setting is crucial for our children. They need the security and containment that fair and consistent discipline gives them. They need to slowly learn the vital skill of self discipline from the consequences of choices that are provided by mature and effective adults. If we, as those adults, rule by fear and threat – our children will never learn how to be self disciplined and socially acceptable in their future lives. They may also become fearful of mistakes. And it is only by making mistakes that we learn how to make better choices.
 
In “the good old days” when children were “seen and not heard”, and corporal punishment was seen as a logical consequence for bad behaviour, it was genuinely believed that it was acceptable to use humiliation, sarcasm, threats, fear and labelling as methods of controlling children. Hopefully we now realise that children respond far better to praise and encouragement. That positive language is more effective than negative. That respect is earned and is not a given. That we can discipline without resorting to use of punitive methods. That discipline works best in the environment of trust and respect. That discipline is easier when parent-child relationships are characterised by positive reinforcement, warmth and empathy. That humour and fun can work hand-in-hand with firm boundaries.  
 
Many adults have unfortunately gone from one extreme to the other. They have become inconsistent and weak. They beg and remind their children far too many times. A parent said to me at the talk the other day “I ask nicely so many times but the children just do not listen to me. Then I just have to yell and smack them”.
My reply…”why on earth do you ask so many times?” and I added “ and you do not have to yell and smack – you choose to do this!”   Believe me – I do know how hard it is for parents today. But we do need to try to change our deeply engrained mind sets regarding discipline. And to believe that is is possible to be a good disciplinarian without ever insulting a child, shouting harshly at a child, hitting a child or instilling fear and anxiety in a child.  And this applies at home and in the classroom.  We need to remind ourselves that good, effective discipline involves the following steps:
 
1)  Clearly state the rule or expectation.
2) Ensure that the child is aware of the consequence for choosing to break this rule/ limit.
3) Remind the child via a clear I message. “ I am very disappointed to see that this room is not yet tidy” spot reminder: no yelling or name calling!
4) Give a clear choice with the consequence. “ If this room is not tidy in 10 minutes, there will be no TV tonight.”
5) Enforce the consequence. “I see that you have chosen not to watch TV.”
6) Stick to it! Even if you have to put up with some ventilation on the part of the child. “I know you are upset. But we had a deal and you chose this.”
7) Stay calm but firm. Remember that your reaction to your child in the present will determine her behaviour in the future! Do NOT give in.
 
It is definitely not easy to be a parent – or a teacher! But we are the adults and it is crucial for our children that we try harder to get this issue of appropriate and effective discipline into clear perspective. Also always remember that good discipline depends on positive communication in families. It is part of this communication – not something separate. We love them – and set boundaries simultaneously!