Discipline without anger

IT’S every parent’s worst nightmare: you enter a toy shop to buy a small toy when suddenly things get out of control. Your child is no longer interested in the Lego set and wants the latest Spiderman figurine that costs hundreds of rands. You refuse calmly, but your child starts protesting loudly. What do you do? You can give in to avoid a noisy tantrum or lose your cool and drag your screaming child from the shop – to the relief or disapproval of the other parents who’ve been watching.

But  once you’ve removed yourself and your child from the embarrassing, exhausting and infuriating  situation, what do you do? Send him to his room? Pretend it didn’t take place to keep the peace?  Rant and rave? “The answer,” says Joburg educational  psychologist Dereck Jackson, “is to set clear rules and boundaries for your child in the first place and make it clear that there are consequences if they overstep them.

“Having rules and boundaries in place creates structure and predictability in the home for your child, while the lack of them leads to chaos.” He says parents need to be assertive – not aggressive – when disciplining their kids. “It’s important to take action when there’s disobedience and your rules are broken,” he adds.

Dereck emphasises the importance of routine from an early age – even for babies from birth to four months. “At that age, kids don’t have the cognitive ability to have discussions. Discipline should start as soon as the child gets mobile, and take the form of removing them from places or activities where they can get hurt and by distracting them with something else. “From the age of three you can have discussions with your child about their behaviour,” Dereck says.

Follow these effective steps to discipline your children:


1. Establish rules and boundaries

This helps children feel secure as they know what to expect. It’s important for both parents to discuss the rules in their house beforehand and to be united in what the consequences will be when they’re broken, advises Dereck. “Have a few rules and keep them simple. Talk to your children and let them understand that obeying the rules is not negotiable,” he adds. He suggests the following rules:

Regular bath and bedtimes “Have a set time for bathing, going to bed and getting up, especially during the week. Even teens need at least 8-10 hours’ sleep. You can let your child feel they have some say in their lives by negotiating a more flexible sleeping time over the weekend.”

Time to eat Put the food out for a reasonable amount of time and then put it away until the next meal. “Don’t force your child to eat, as that could sow the seeds of eating problems later in life.”

Tidying up Children from 17 months can learn how to tidy up (such as putting their toys, books or crayons away). Teach them how to do it and praise them for doing it right or without you having to ask them to.

Doing homework Have a designated place in their bedroom or in the house to do homework without distractions like TV. Kids should sit upright at a desk or table. For primary school children, this should be before 7 pm. If they don’t have homework, they can revise what they learned that day. Let your child understand they can’t do anything else until their homework is done and you’ve checked it. “Learning how to be neat and organised at home helps kids to replicate the same at school,” says Dereck.

Being respectful “Help your child understand that you are the authority figure in the home and not their friend,” Dereck advises.

2. Be assertive, not aggressive

Be assertive, not aggressive, when you give commands. Dereck says to show assertiveness involves 70 % body language and 30 % words. “Kids don’t respect words. Be respectful, but don’t beg them to do what they’re required to do. Lean forward to get to their level and use their name (no  name calling like ‘you lazy brat’). “Speak in a firm voice and put your command in a time-frame. For example, say ‘Sipho, please tidy up your room, now’. Don’t allow them to have a time gap because they’d like you to get frustrated and give in. That way they break you down,” Dereck continues. He says mothers become ineffective by nagging and not taking action. Fathers tend to “preach” or tell long stories. “Neither attempt to assert discipline in this way will work,” Dereck adds.

3. Take Appropriate Action

Take immediate action when your child doesn’t respond to an assertive command. “The focus is on ‘action’, not punishment, which has a negative connotation,” Dereck explains. The action depends on the nature of the offence and the age of the child. Options include isolation (sending them to their room for an amount of time appropriate for their age) or taking away privileges (for example, reducing TV or gaming time, grounding for teens, taking away their mobile phone for a set period or taking off 10 % from their pocket money). “Overreacting can cause damage (for example, taking away their pocket money for three months is unreasonable). Short-term actions are more suitable and effective,” says Dereck.

Why discipline is important

Children who grow up without discipline will never learn proper boundaries, both within themselves and with other people, says Claudia Abelheim, an educational psychologist with The Family Life Centre’s parenting programme in Joburg. “This means that as teenagers and adults they won’t understand what’s appropriate or not. When parents give in all the time, it shows a lack of respect for themselves and for their child. Children will struggle to respect themselves if they have parents who don’t respect them,” she says. On the other hand, the result of excessive discipline (or abuse) will lead to children struggling with self-respect. “Children who grow up in an abusive home might feel that whatever they do is never good enough. This is internalised and could lead to huge challenges with self-esteem and risky behaviour later in life. Kids who grow up with this style of parenting might also try to always please their parents, making it difficult for them to learn to think and act for themselves,” she adds. Remember children are also people. Be open with them when you make a mistake. That will encourage them to cooperate and they will appreciate your honesty.

Apologising to your child

If you have lost your cool and behaved inappropriately towards your child:

  • Admit why you reacted with anger (whether it’s a result of stress or frustration).
  • Acknowledge how you think it made your child feel (for example, belittled, afraid, confused or angry).
  • Tell your child what they did to make you respond this way, and what you would like them to do differently in the future to help prevent you from reacting this way again. Also give ways in which you will try to control your own anger in the future.

Contact The Family Life Centre for more information on their parenting courses. Call 011-788-4784/5 or visit www.familylife.co.za.

- Vida Li Sik

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