/ 16 November 2011

The ABCs of good discipline

The Abcs Of Good Discipline

After a long, rough day at work you still have to feed the children, give them a bath and put them to bed. As you rush to prepare the evening meal your six-year-old son decides to give his baby sister a haircut.

All parents will, at some point, find themselves in a situation where they need to discipline their children. However, discipline is something many parents grapple with, desperately seeking answers to how to raise little ladies and gentlemen.

Patricia Coombe, a facilitator at the Parent Centre in Wynberg, who has 30 years’ experience working with pre-school children, defines discipline as “a way of being being aware of others, being aware of rules and buying into a structure that is there for the common good”.

Dr Richard Hayward, former principal of IR Griffith Primary School in Randburg, observes that, “Discipline is not the same as punishment. Discipline aims to help the child behave properly. Parameters of expected behaviour are drawn up for the child. The parameters are there to help the child become self-disciplined. Discipline should never be destructive or harmful. Punishment, which happens as a result of bad behaviour, is aimed at making the child suffer.”

Coombe, meanwhile, believes that discipline is essential as it keeps things moving smoothly. It helps to make family and society work together. “Just as traffic and road rules are imperative for the safety and free flowing of traffic, so discipline helps families and society to interact safely and smoothly.”

Patrolling too closely
According to Coombe, parents should remember that “being in charge does not mean being in control of every little movement that the child makes. If you were driving your car and there was a stop street at every intersection and you were continually being given tickets by the traffic cop for speeding, for parking in the wrong place, for overtaking in the wrong place, all the joys of driving would be taken away. So, if, as a parent, you are being your child’s traffic cop and handing out tickets 100 times a day, probably there are far too many rules. Most of them would be unnecessary and you are patrolling far too closely.”

She explains that parents should take into consideration that “very often, what is seen by the adult as naughty is not, in fact, naughty at all. It is just age-appropriate behaviour. A young child is seldom trying to be naughty; children are just being young children.”

“If a child is doing what they should not do, simply draw their attention to something else,” says Hayward.
Punishment and violence should never be used in an attempt to discipline a child, states Coombe. “We do not hit people and children are people. South Africa has one of the highest violence rates in the world and we have to change this. Hitting is never, ever the answer as violence only breeds violence. Hitting only teaches a child that, ‘If I am stronger or bigger than you, then I have the right to hurt you’.”

According to Jo-Marie Bothma, a clinical psychologist, emphasis should rather be placed on actions and consequences. “Children should learn that all choices in life lead to consequences. Some of those consequences can feel like a punishment, but they are the direct result of a choice that we have made. Therefore, we need to rethink next time we are faced with a similar choice.”

Paddy Johnston, an educational consultant at People First, which specialises in whole school evaluations focusing on school development, believes that good discipline comes from good communication between parents and children.

Naming their world
“Talk to your children from the time they are babies and also teach them to name their world. If they are able to name their world you will help them articulate their feelings, which will result in fewer tantrums in younger children.” However, when it comes to younger children, routine is sacred, “as children are happier when they have boundaries which make them feel safe”, says Johnston.

Hayward observes, “When a child is angry, it is the adult or parent who needs to control their emotions. Too often, we hear parents say that ‘the child is out of control’. Sometimes it is the adult who has lost control.”

Coombe states that, “If we fight children back, we are lowering ourselves to the developmental stage of the child. There is very little chance of a calm, effective result. Fighting with a little child is like playing rugby with a pawpaw; it is messy and actually does not work.”

A familiar scene is that of a parent dragging a child having a tantrum in public. Generally, most people would feel pity for the parent, labelling the child a brat. Hayward believes that, often, the pity felt should be for the child. “Perhaps the child is hungry, thirsty, uncomfortable, tired, over-stimulated or taken out of their usual routine.”

Coombe states that, in instances where parents are clearly provoked by a child, parents could remember the robot technique. “As the red light comes on stop! Think about what is happening. Most importantly, ask why the particular behaviour is happening. Take a deep breath. As the orange light comes on, you are able to decide on the best possible action. The green light phase makes for a responsible reaction rather than an impulsive one. Such a calm approach can avoid a head-on collision.”

Parents need to take time out every so often. “When our own wells are dry we are not able to nourish our children in the way that they need to be nourished. We all know when we have dried up. It is essential to do something about it before we crack up,” says Coombe.

In many families different personalities and grown-ups with different backgrounds result in conflicting discipline styles. Manipulative children take advantage. Therefore, Hayward says, parents should agree on what approaches should be used to discipline.

One form of discipline recommended by the Parent Centre is seeing the adult in a loving leadership role. The child is the disciple, following naturally and happily. “Children from a very early age copy their parents and so parents should act as role models to their children,” concludes Coombe. As James Baldwin, American novelist, sums it up, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders but they have never failed to imitate them.”

Tips for effective discipline

  • Rules need to be clearly and calmly thought out. Everyone needs to know the rules. As children get older, they should be part of the rule-making team.
  • Try using “time in” rather than “time out”. Stop what you are doing and actually give full attention to your child.
  • Bad behaviour often occurs in order to get attention. Even negative attention is better than no attention.
  • A child who feels loved, respected and acknowledged will most likely want to behave in a friendly, cooperative way.
  • In order to discipline effectively, parents need to be one step ahead of their children. Anticipating their needs is vital. Do not wait until they are starving before you start preparing their meal or stay playing in the park until everyone is exhausted. Otherwise, bath time, supper and bedtime are going to be a disaster.

We need to understand why our children are behaving in a certain way before deciding on any disciplinary action. We may find no discipline is necessary, only a bit more compassion and understanding.

  • Praise good behaviour.
  • Avoid insults, humiliation or sarcasm.
  • Give your child plenty of opportunities to achieve success, and praise his/her efforts.
  • Be consistent in your discipline.
  • Listen to your child. Try to understand his/her feelings and ways of reasoning.
  • Have a designated calming-down area at home for anyone who is angry.
  • Be fair, firm and friendly.
  • Talk to your children.
  • Most importantly, enjoy your children.

Information supplied by Jo-Marie Bothma, Patricia Coombe, Paddy Johnston and Dr Richard Hayward.