Guiding a child with love and peace seems so simple yet some days it can be all too hard! Unlike electrical appliances and DIY cabinets, children do not come with a manual and there is no “one size fits all” approach to guiding and disciplining them. Sometimes you just have to keep trying different methods and strategies until you find the one that works for a particular child or situation. Like adults, children are not all the same, therefore they will all have different needs and ways in which they communicate, react and behave. The one thing that we all have in common though is – the need for love and respect. So the simple part of guiding and disciplining is focussing on your love and respect for the child. Whether you are five or fifty-five you want to be heard and you want to be understood. Children don’t always have the self control or ability to articulate what it is they want and therefore may display negative behaviours if they do not feel in control or that they are being listened to and respected. If you look deeper, you will almost always find an underlying cause or reason for negative behaviour. So set the right scene, ask the right questions and calmly deal with whatever comes your way:
Create The Right Environment
Many times when there is negative behaviour it is because the environment is not set up to encourage harmony, stimulation, and freedom. Make sure that the area children are playing in provides enough space, light, safety, freedom and opportunity for exploration. There should also be enough interesting, challenging, creative, and skill level appropriate activities for them to partake in. One of the number one reasons why children will act out is because they are bored!
Be An Effective Communicator
Ask the child why they are playing up, misbehaving, throwing a tantrum etc and then carefully listen to what they are saying. Negotiating with a child has been humorously likened to negotiating with a terrorist : ) There sure are times when it takes every ounce of your energy and self control to get through the conversation. Be persistent, be calm and ask the right questions. Here are a few examples: “How are you feeling today?” “Has something made you unhappy?” “What happened and how can I help you sort it out?” “What would make you feel better?” “ Do you want to talk about how you are feeling?” Listen carefully and make sure that your response indicates that you were listening e.g “So you are upset that Tom wouldn’t share the blocks?” Then help them work out what they could do or say to resolve the issue. Try not to fix everything for them, give them the skills they need to do it themselves.
Children need consistency, it helps them to feel secure. They need routines for meal times, sleep times, getting ready in the morning, play times and pretty much most parts of the day. It helps give them balance and teaches them how to pace themselves. Children need lots of small healthy meals throughout the day as they are frequently using up lots of energy. They need regular sleep hours and a regular sleep routine e.g dinner, quiet play for thirty minutes, brush teeth, go to toilet, say goodnight to the rest of the family, then get into bed for a bed time story or two. This not only helps them to wind down but gets their bodies and mind ready for sleep. Many times when a child is displaying negative behaviours, it is because they are tired, hungry, or are out of routine, so be mindful of this and adjust your routines accordingly.
Role Model Positive Behaviour
How often do you hear a parent say to their child “Don’t hit!” when they use hitting as their preferred method of disciplining all the time or “Don’t Swear,” when you yourself swear in front of them. You can’t be a hypocrite in parenting because children learn far more from what they see or experience than what they are told. If you say to a child “You can’t eat treats before dinner,” then you go and do exactly that in front of them, what are you teaching? Children love to imitate adults so if you want your children to eat well, be kind to others, not be rude or display negative behaviour, etc, then you better make sure you are demonstrating the right behaviour yourself. Of course there will be moments when you might not be perfect – nobody is – but work at being the most positive role model that you can be!
Praise And Positive Reinforcement
Sometimes children get lots of attention for negative behaviour and not enough positive attention when they do the right thing. Therefore they quickly work out that if they do something negative they are going to get noticed and if they do the right thing nobody pays any attention at all. Remember this and take note of when you give your child the most time – is it when they are displaying negative behaviours or is it when they are displaying positive behaviours? Effective praise encourages learning, independence and good self-esteem. Make sure that you praise their efforts effectively and give them attention at the right time. If they have helped you set the table, you might say something like, “Thank you for helping me set the table, what a great job! You put out enough forks and knives for everyone and even remembered the napkins.” If they have cleaned up their room you could say, “Well done, your room looks so nice and tidy and you have so much more space now!” etc. Sometimes all a child needs is a little positive love and attention and the negative behaviour soon disappears because they don’t have to try so hard to get your attention any more.
This is often known as time out and that is what it is really but I like to call it Thinking Time as it should be a time when children are thinking about their behaviour and why it was not acceptable. I hate the word “Naughty Corner” and would never call it that because it is negative and unhelpful. If a child is not playing nicely with others or refuses to do something that you have asked them to do then send them to the thinking area e.g the lounge, a pillow etc. A good amount of thinking time is around their age e.g a three-year-old gets three minutes thinking time. Say to them something like “You are not playing very nicely with your friends at the moment so you need to go to the thinking chair and have a think about it.” If they refuse to go to the thinking space give them the choice of going there on their own or being carried there. That way they feel as if they have some choice but you are still in control. If they get off before time is up tell them that you are starting the clock again and continue to do this until they sit and think. Thinking time is also a good opportunity for children to calm down if the disagreement has been an out of control one. When their time is up, go to them and ask them what they thought about and why it wasn’t very nice to treat their friends that way. Discuss ways in which they could have acted instead. This is teaching them skills for reflection, evaluation, conflict resolution, socially acceptable behaviour and communication, amongst many other things.
This is one of the best ways to learn self discipline and about the connection between action and result because the outcome is a direct consequence of the child’s behaviour. For example if a child refuses to eat dinner they will be hungry and will learn from it for next time. If a child refuses to clean up after painting then the paints and painting equipment get packed away for at least a day and the child can’t use it. If a child throws it’s food on the ground and refuses to pick it up, it goes in the bin and they miss out on it. If children are not playing well together and sharing, they are given the choice of sharing or playing on their own without whatever it was that they weren’t sharing. If a child is playing dangerously outside and keeps going near the road or touching things they were asked not to then they lose the privilege of playing outside and have to go inside for the rest of the day. Quite simple really, yet very effective if done properly!
Distract or Redirect
This is particularly effective when dealing with a younger child under the age of three. If they are playing with something that you don’t want them to touch, throwing a tantrum, or behaving in any other unacceptable way etc., you can either distract them by showing them something else e.g Wow did you see that pretty rainbow coloured bird out the window?” Or you can redirect by saying something like “Look at that play-dough over there, let’s see what we can make with it!” Another way to redirect is if they are doing something inappropriate like drawing on a book or wall etc tell them that we don’t draw on walls but they can draw on a piece of paper and then give them something that they can draw on. Young children’s attention spans are pretty short so a temporary fix like distraction and redirection works quite well.
Ignoring works well when it comes to tantrum throwing, swearing, sulking or other negative behaviours where the main goal is to get attention. If a child is throwing a tantrum, walk out of the room, once the tantrum is not getting any attention it’s not working for them any more so they stop. If you have to say something just say “It’s too noisy in here, I’m going somewhere quiet until you are ready to stop making all that noise!” If a child swears and you have already told them it is not a nice thing to say but they keep swearing, just ignore it. Don’t pay any attention to it at all or walk out of the room. If you have to say something then say “Go and swear in your room because I don’t want to hear it!” As long as the child is in no danger if you leave the room, then it is a very effective way to curb the behaviour.
Why Some Methods Are Not As Effective
There are some other ways of disciplining that are used which are not as effective as the list above. These include smacking, shouting and giving rewards, here is why:
There are times when a smack on the hand to stop a child touching a hot stove top, sharp knife, pinching another child etc are necessary and in my opinion far less harmful than the alternative. But when I say smack I do not mean hit hard as I definitely do not condone hitting or using any kind of violence on a child. The smack should not leave a lasting red mark, it should not be done with any kind of force or aggression and should only be enough to alert the child of it’s immediate danger or quickly put an end to unacceptable behaviour without making them frightened of you. Anything that leaves a lasting mark is called Child Abuse and has absolutely no place in caring for a child.
Shouting aggressively is similarly not effective and can be classed as Child Abuse if the child is frightened of you. As I have said before, reasonable, rational adults do not believe that screaming at another adult is a respectable way to communicate so why would you do that to a child? Of course it is normal for a parent to lose their cool every now and then and raise their voice at their child – who hasn’t done that! It becomes a problem when an adult aggressively shouts at a child negatively and often. It becomes a problem when a child is scared of you, a child should never be scared of their parent or any other adult!
The other form of discipline that I do not believe is effective but is used quite a lot is giving rewards for good behaviour. Mainly because I believe that children should learn how to behave appropriately because it is the right thing to do not because they are given a gift for doing what they should have been doing anyway. Giving rewards is fairly harmless and is neither here nor there but it is unrealistic and not really teaching anything valuable. Adults do not get a gift for making their beds, emptying the dishwasher, setting the table, etc so why should children? It is their home and their environment too so it is really their duty and privilege to help take care of it. Adults do not get presents for being kind or sharing, they get the intrinsic reward of feeling good about their kind deed and that is what children should be learning. Besides, if you have ever done something nice for someone else, you would know how good that feels – Much better than any store bought gift. So allow your child the privilege of knowing what that feels like!
Guiding and Disciplining with love and respect is really the only way to achieve your objective – which should be to raise a kind, caring, productive, peaceful, happy and respectful child/adult. I truly believe that you can’t raise a child to be a positive member of society if your guidance is based on negativity. Violence breeds violence just as love breeds love. You may not get positive results everyday and not every issue will be easily resolved but on those occasions just take a deep breath, try and stay calm and just do your best!
Darling Precious Children