Instilling self-discipline in children

2008-06-19 00:00

Self–discipline is an important personal attribute which parents can instil in their children. This is essential because it will make the teacher’s job lighter, since the child will be in a flexible behaviour mode and therefore likely to differentiate between normative behaviour and behaviour that is against the value system of our society.

As a parent, you can discipline your children so that they will want to behave themselves without any application of external force. When your children are self-disciplined, both the parent and the child will begin to build a stronger relationship based on mutual respect.

The first step in starting this learning process is to ensure that the child feels bad about the misbehaviour but good about him or herself. Parents should remember that the stick is not the answer to disciplinary problems. A reprimand coupled with love will help the child to realise what is wrong with the way he or she is behaving.

When reprimanding, do not go on and on about the misbehaviour. Make sure to pause and let the unpleasant silence hang in the air. This will definitely make the child uneasy and force him or her to sit up and listen. This is a good thing. A reprimand should not be a pleasant experience, and this short pause of silence will make what is to come a bit more dramatic.

But most importantly, don’t forget to show the child love, even when you are reprimanding. Let the child know that you are reprimanding him or her because he or she has done something wrong, not because you don’t love him or her anymore. The perfect balance is when discipline and love are meted out in equal proportions.

It is one thing to take action when your child misbehaves, but it is even worse not to take any action when he or she behaves well.

When you do nothing to recognise your child’s good behaviour, he or she will start feeling neglected and will begin to misbehave again, but this time merely to attract attention. This means when you reprimand ensure that you indicate areas that the child is doing well. Pay more attention to what your child is doing right and praise him or her for that.

Make sure your child feels he or she is a winner in your eyes and this will lead to more self–confidence and greater self–esteem. In return, not only will the child feel better about him or herself, but you will also feel closer and more loving towards the child.

Goal-setting is the next step to developing self-discipline in our children. They should be reminded of the importance of accomplishing bigger things in their lifetime. You need to teach your children how to effectively set realistic goals. This can range from something as simple as asking what they would like to do over the weekend with their friends, to what they would like to be when they grow up. Make sure that your children write their goals down all the time and take a minute to read them. Then ask the child if his or her current behaviour matches his or her goals. If not, the child will realise that he or she needs to adapt to a more acceptable mode of behaviour.

The next step is to teach by example. Lead a lifestyle and behave in a manner which engenders respect, not contempt. It is therefore important to behave in a way which makes your children proud to call you their parents and which inspires them to live up to your example and emulate you as they grow up.

It is not all about being rigid, dishing out discipline, being careful how you behave and watching your every step. A responsible parent will also find time merely to be with his or her children. This quality time could include playing sport with them, reading them stories, taking an active role in their homework and school projects, taking them to the library, or just sitting and talking to them about everyday things.

Have fun with them and let them cultivate happy childhood memories of being with you and spending quality time with you.

Developing self-discipline in children is not a one-way street. You must begin to realise that you will also have to change in order to see positive results in your child and your family as a whole. It may not always be easy being a good parent but the benefits and rewards you reap far outweigh the challenges.

• Alois Nzembe has several years of teaching experience at both primary and high school levels. He is currently teaching geography at Icesa College.

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