As parents, we shape our children’s behaviour through praise and role-modelling. When children learn from their parents that some behaviours have a positive effect and others have negative effects, they learn to choose to behave in the way that has more positive effects. But we need to be wary to be neither too draconian nor too prescriptive; to maintain boundaries and limits. A child whose parents are too rigid in their discipline may buckle and loose his own inner motivation (so necessary for him to take on the many challenges life will have in store) or he might become one of those children who rebel just for the sake of feeling that he is in charge of his own behaviour. We parents don’t just want our children to do as we say when we are around and then do exactly the opposite when our backs are turned. A child who does that is vulnerable to falling in with “the wrong crowd” and is more likely to experiment with dangerous drugs and anti-social behaviours. On the other hand, parents who are too laissez-faire make it harder for their children to develop a sense of inner discipline. These children may have great difficulty coping with society’s rules and laws as they grow older and are less likely to develop the self discipline needed to pursue long-term goals.
Here are 5 parenting tips to good discipline:
- Role model good behaviour. This does not mean that as parents we must be paragons of virtue. Parents are human too and that means we make mistakes; sometimes we behave badly and sometimes we make bad choices. If we try to pretend to our children that we never make mistakes, that will be our greatest mistake! Children notice a lot, they are learning by observing our every movement. So we can teach them by role modelling what to do when we have made a mistake. We can teach them to say “sorry” by apologising when we have done wrong. We can also teach them by role-modelling how we check our behaviour and go back to correct our mistakes. A child will learn far more deeply about making reparation and apologising from a parent who role-models it that from one who simply insists to the child “say you’re sorry”.
- Reward good behaviour and remove rewards from bad behaviour. This does not mean that you need to give a gift to your child every time he is good and take away a toy every time he behaves badly. Children love attention, especially attention from their parents. So we can give extra attention when they are behaving well. We can simply make a point of noticing and praising good behaviour. Children who are praised when they are good and told exactly what it was they did to earn the praise, are more likely to want to do that good deed more often. It is not good enough to simply say “good job” every time you see behaviour you like. I have watched children’s reaction to this glib form of praise and can see that it has minimal impact. Be specific, show that you really noticed and show real enthusiasm for what they have done. Say what was good about it: “I love the way you put so much effort into the picture you made for Granny! Because you put all that effort in, it is really something special.” When a child behaves badly, we need to be very aware of what might be a hidden reward for that behaviour and we must make sure we remove it. This is not always possible (see Consequences below); but the importance of removing the reward is that behaviour that is rewarded increases in frequency. This means that if the behaviour has some kind of hidden reward, the child will behave like that more often. When parents only pay real attention to their child when he behaves badly, this attention actually rewards the bad behaviour. This is one reason that spanking can backfire: spanking might be sore but if Mom or Dad is usually too busy to notice you, at least you know you are noticed when they give you a spanking. So parents beware: give attention when behaviour is good; remove attention (such as having “time-out”) when behaviour is bad.
- Keep communication open. This does not just mean ask him what he did at school. This is about having relaxed chats about anything in the world he wants to talk about. When he doesn’t feel like talking you can just be together. In other words, give him the space to feel safe and comfortable and before you know it, he will begin to chat. Be careful to not be negative about things he tells you. You don’t have to accept everything. If he tells you he has done something that you know is dangerous or very unwise, don’t react with anger or tell him he’s a fool. Tell him what the dangers are, ask him why he chose to do it, get to talking about better choices he could have made. Let it be a discussion in which he does not feel belittled and wish he had not told you. If he feels that you are really listening, interested and open to discussion, he is more likely to keep you informed of what he is doing when you are not around. If he feels that you are likely to punish or reprimand him, he will keep quiet next time. The worst part about children not feeling comfortable telling their parents about their poor choices and behaviours, is that when they are in difficulty or unsure of how to handle a situation, they will be less inclined to come to you for advice. So, keep communication open, provide space and time for him to bring up concerns he may have, discuss them with him, reflect on their likely consequences, encourage and support him in thinking of better options he could have chosen.
- Consequences. It is not always possible to remove the hidden or intrinsic reward the bad behaviour has. In these cases you have to resort to applying the rule of consequences. This is usually most effective if the consequence is the removal of some privilege which your child values and which is similar to the reward he managed to extract from the bad behaviour. For example: if your child sneaked out to play with friends when he should have been doing homework, he was rewarded by having great fun. Sometimes children are willing to pay the price of a spanking because the value of the fun was so great. So, remove the fun of friendship and play-time for a week and ensure that he does extra homework in that time. Now he has had to pay with removal of the same type of reward that he received, only more was taken away than he had received. No child will see this as worth repeating. It’s just behaviour economics! The cost is higher and in the same currency.
- Love and Respect. These are easy. Every parent loves their child completely. We just have to remember to tell them and to show them! Give lots of hugs and never miss an opportunity to tell them that what they’re doing makes you proud. Respect is not only for young to give to their elders; it is something we should give to every human and everything on Earth. If we parents show respect to other people and treat animals well, we are teaching our children to respect others too. Also, if we respect our children, respect their wishes and needs, they will develop a strong self esteem and be able and willing to respect others. This does not mean that we parents must give in to our children, we have greater life experience and are here to guide them, we have the veto. But even when we veto their demands, we can do it respectfully. Saying “because I say so” is not really respectful, rather give a simple reason for your decision; there will be a good reason and by sharing it with your child, you are teaching him how to make better decisions for himself.
Parents, you are a key to shaping your child’s future! You love your child unconditionally and want your child to grow up with a moral compass of his own, a sense of boundaries and yet, also a sense of self esteem and self belief. The way we parents choose to discipline our children has a strong impact on how they grow up. Bring up your child to respect himself and others, have the strength of character to impose limits on his own behaviour and aim his behaviour at well thought out goals. This is the beginning of true self discipline! Your child will grow up to be a happy, moral, successful adult of whom you will be wonderfully proud!
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