By Essie Bester
When it comes to handling your child’s behaviour, none of your efforts seem to be effective. It frustrates you and you are at your wit’s end. But there is hope. The reasons why discipline does not work, could include one of the following:
- You give up too soon: When implementing an effective disciplinary strategy, it must be kept in mind that things sometimes get worse before they get better. If your child can convince you to buy him a toy or sweets by throwing a tantrum in a shop and suddenly that strategy no longer works, it could make your child scream and cry louder because it’s his way of trying to change the outcome. Give a new technique time to kick in. Behaviour takes time to learn and also to unlearn.
- Poor execution: Children as well as parents need time to learn new behaviour. Expect to make mistakes when implementing a new strategy and be patient and lenient with yourself.
- Inconsistency: Parents often implement a good strategy but it is ineffective because they do not apply it consistently. Children need repetition, predictability and consistency to learn and feel safe. Consistency teaches children where the boundaries are and allows them to anticipate the consequences of their choices. Also remember that discipline is intended to teach your child, unlike heavy punishment, which only teaches children to hide undesirable behaviour.
- Caught up in a power struggle: If your child never agrees with what you say – regardless of what it is – it could mean that you are caught up in a power struggle. Although your first instinct could be tougher action, you must be careful. Children who refuse to cooperate and behave defiantly and hostile towards friends, parents, teachers and other figures of authority, seldom react favourably to micromanagement or coercion.
- You don’t follow up: Make sure you mean every word you say. If you promise your son that he may play with Legos after supper, he must be able to count on it that, unless something unexpected happens, he can play with it after supper. Children must be able to rely on what you say if you want to apply discipline efficiently.
Dr Wietske Boon, a play therapist from Centurion, says that when it comes to discipline (as with many other educational tasks) there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every child is different, your family dynamics are unique, and parents’ approach and personalities differ – all these will determine the style of discipline that will work for you.
However, regardless of the style of discipline, there are a few points that should be applied to assure effective discipline:
- Look at your own behaviour. If your behaviour is not as it should be, you cannot expect your child to show positive behaviour. When you apply discipline, be calm but firm when you admonish your child.
- Discipline with love. Discipline is not an opportunity for intimidating or enforcing authority. Discipline is practised out of love to teach your children to distinguish between right and wrong. They must learn that their behaviour has consequences. When you apply discipline, discuss with your children why it is necessary to discipline them and that you love them.
- Work together as a team. It is of no use when one parent is always strict while the children get away with murder with the other parent. Parents should decide together on a suitable style of discipline that will work for the whole family, and apply it consistently. Guard against allowing family and friends from interfering with your discipline.
- Communication between parents is of the utmost importance. When one parent does not agree with the other parent’s actions, discuss it in private. Children get very upset when parents argue in their presence. In addition attention is diverted from the child’s behaviour and it confuses the child when parents have different expectations.
- Communicate with your child. Discuss your child’s behaviour with him. Listen to how he feels about the situation. Perhaps there is a reason for his behaviour and perhaps it is something that should receive attention.
- Lay down clear boundaries. You cannot discipline a child if there are no clear rules. Lay down basic house rules. Explain to your children what the consequences will be if they don’t follow the rules and stick to it.
- Choose a suitable style of discipline. Consider the various styles of discipline and choose one that will work for you. Sometimes it goes well for a while, but then it becomes necessary to try something else to suit your child’s personality and age.
- Age-appropriate discipline. Make sure that your expectations and rules are reasonable and that your children understand what is expected of them. Also make sure that your style of discipline is suitable for your child’s age.
- Warn twice and then act. It is necessary to warn a child that his behaviour is unacceptable, but if he persists you have to act.
- Be consistent. Children know when to take a chance, for instance when you are tired or too busy and will overlook his behaviour. However, children need structure and routine to flourish. They must know that your “no” is indeed no.
- Is it worth its while? We cannot put children in little boxes and we must give them space to develop. Decide whether whatever you’re scolding about is really worth its while and necessary.
- Use constructive words. Guard against disparaging and humiliating your children. Focus on the behaviour and explain why it is disapproved of. Help them with alternative methods of, for instance, getting rid of anger or frustration or how to approach a specific problematic situation positively.