Do you feel your blood boiling when disciplining your kids? Regret your stern words, raised voice or actions just moments afterwards? You wouldn’t be alone there. It’s difficult to keep your cool in these situations, especially during stressful times. But discipline doesn’t have to mean punishment, it doesn’t have to leave you feeling guilty or your children scared of you. It’s all about educating your children how to behave appropriately and to understand the basics of good behaviour. So remember…it’s education, not punishment.
If we understand this concept, that discipline is about education, then ask yourself what is the best way to learn. What do you take away from a tense and angry conversation? Probably it just makes you feel sad and angry and withdraw into yourself, right? Now ask yourself what you take away from a warm conversation, where both sides talk and listen? As parents, we can learn a lot about how our children are feeling and what made them behave that way in the first place if we just talk and listen. It’s as much an education for us, as it is for them. If we understand better what makes our children tick, what their triggers are, then possibly we can predict when bad behaviour might happen and do our best to prevent it or at least be better prepared to deal with it. By fostering a warm and loving relationship, where talking and listening to our children rather than talking at them and not listening, we give our children a better chance at learning how to behave.
Here are a few tips to build this kind of relationship with your child and for you to better manage bad behaviour.
1. Set boundaries early
The toddler years are a very good time to start introducing some boundaries and discipline because that’s a time when young children are really experimenting with different behaviours and starting to push buttons. Just be mindful that may not yet understand the connection between behaviour and consequences.
2. Establish your family rules and stick to them
It’s important for families to introduce their own rules about what’s okay and what’s not okay, where the limits are and what you as parents expect from your children in terms of behaviour. Often older children will copy behaviour from their friends which you aren’t happy with and they won’t understand why it’s OK for their friends to say/do certain things when they can’t. Try to make them understand that different families have different rules and just because their friends are allowed something, it doesn’t mean that they are.
3. Explain the negative consequences
It’s important for children to see that if they do something that crosses the line, there will be consequences for it. Time Out is a goodie to use (especially if you suspect your child might just be tired or stressed) or you might reduce screen time, or something that has importance to them.
4. Don’t forget Positive Reinforcement
Whilst we’re focusing here on negative behaviour, it’s important to remember to reinforce positive behaviour. Praise children when you see them behave really well, when they speak in a lovely way to their little sister or little brother, when they do something kind for someone in the family, when they do what they are told without complaining. Positive reinforcement will boost their self esteem and hopefully encourage them to behave in a more positive way than negative!
5. Explain how bad behaviour makes you feel
Be a strong role model for your children and behave the way you want them to behave. For example, if you yell at them, they will probably yell at you (and everyone else!) Even a very young child can understand emotions so share with your child how it makes you feel when they behave badly. You can tell them 'That hurts my feelings,' or 'I feel sad when you do that.'
6. Limit your time outs
Evidence suggests that time out can be useful, but it needs to be appropriate and it needs to have some boundaries as well. What’s helpful is to be clear on the length of time out so five minutes might be all it takes. It’s important to remmeber that their bedroom should be a sanctuary and a happy place for them so using it like a jail might have a negative effect. Try to use Time Outs in a positive way to give your child some quiet time to reflect rather than as a pure form of punchishment and make sure they know that you will be along shortly when they have calmed down and use that time to have a rational conversation with them about what just happened. Whatever happens, don’t use this as a threat of a scare tactic; they need to feel safe even when they are being disciplined, and don’t leave them for too long – set the time frame to something they might understand, like “Stay there till Daddy gets home” or “Stay there until supper time”.
7. Don’t use an angry voice
Getting angry doesn’t always produce the outcome you’re looking for. It’s not that different to when a little baby might be pulling your hair or pulling your earring or something like that. A simple no, repeated if needs be, even a young baby comprehends that and can take it in. Angry voices can scare children and makes it harder for you to foster a nurturing bond between you and your child.
8. Don’t smack them
Smacking isn’t good for children and it doesn’t teach them how to behave or how to control their behaviour. It also sends a message that smacking is okay, which it isn’t. Smacking might injure a child and it may even contribute to longer term harm. Whatever happens, do not resort to physical violence. If you find that you can’t control your temper, don’t be ashamed to get help.
9. Learn the motive for misbehaving
Whether the bad behaviour is, be firm and say something like 'That is not okay. We don't do that in our family.' It’s important to try and understand what’s behind that sort of behaviour. Ask your child what their feelings are at that moment, why they are upset and try to dig deep to find the root of the problem. Children misbehave for lots of different reasons, including their temperament, having trouble adjusting to changes or simply because they’re overtired or frustrated. It will help your child and you as a parent to understand the underlying problem.
10. Show them love and respect
At the end of the day, remember how much you love your child and they have their own little personalities. Your job as a parent is to guide them through their youth to help them be happy adults. They deserve your respect, even during these early years. Children are no longer “seen and not heard” so talk to them with respect and listen to them with respect. Mutual respect will only help to build a loving and caring family.