Wise ways to discipline
First of all there are some very important factors to consider for discipline to work well. Without them, your efforts to effectively teach your children will ultimately fail.
1. INFLUENCE: You cannot teach what you do not live. For example, you cannot teach your child not to yell at you, if you yell at your child. Much of what our children learn is through observation and imitation. Our babies and children watch us intently, and our influence over their lives is immeasurable. Every day, remind yourself that you are a leader and an example to your children. (and remember that when you blow it, as we all do, the best example to set is to say sorry, have a cuddle, take a big breath, and move on.)
2. ENVIRONMENT: Babies and children are more receptive to discipline when we create a WARM, SAFE AND STIMULATING environment. Warmth means our children know they are cherished, valued and approved of. We make it clear that when they misbehave, it is the behaviour we disapprove of, not them. We show affection liberally, and use affectionate language. We monitor the 'atmosphere' of our homes, because if we are stressed, grumpy and edgy, our children will synchronise their mood to ours! We keep them physically and emotionally safe. When they are fearful, angry or upset, we acknowledge their feelings. We teach them that feelings are good, but it's what we DO with our feelings that can lead to trouble! Lastly, little children are active explorers. They need opportunities to dig, splash, jump, climb, construct, bang, push, pull, etc etc etc!! Bored children are far more likely to whine and misbehave.
3. CONSISTENCY: This is SO important. Consistency breeds security and predictability, and inconsistency breeds insecurity and confusion. A lack of consistency on our part is a major cause of inappropriate behaviour. Is your response to misbehaviour consistent and predictable, or dependant on your mood, the time of day, the setting, or your child's angry response? Always aim to be consistent, no matter what the circumstances. NB. Don't give up! Persevere with being consistent, as it can take time to finally see positive results.
4. EARLY ACTION: This means we step in to give direction well before anger and frustration take hold. When you give too many warnings and threats, you end up disciplining in anger, and misbehaving yourself. This teaches your child that he can ignore your first warning, because there will be many more before you finally act! Don't put off an opportunity to teach your child in a way that is helpful and effective, when you are calm and rational.
This is the ROUTINE stage. Babies thrive on loving interaction and a consistent routine. Create your own queues that teach your baby to predict what is about to happen. For example, singing the same lullaby as you prepare baby for sleep-time helps him understand what you expect. Turning on a music box as you leave the room is another queue that communicates that it is time for sleep. Develop predictable queues in your baby's routine. When baby becomes mobile, he will instinctively look to you for direction when exploring something new. Use a calm and assertive voice when needing to set a limit, and if your direction is ignored, then either remove an object, or remove your baby from harm's way. Next, REDIRECT his attention toward something he is allowed to explore eg., 'let's play with your blocks!'. If you are consistent, your baby will soon learn what is out of bounds. Don't be put off by little performances, as these are quite normal. Avoid using the word 'no' all the time. It is far more effective to give POSITIVE DIRECTION, for example, 'switches are DANGEROUS to touch' rather than 'NO don't touch'.
TODDLERS AND TWO-YEAR-OLDS
I call this the 'WHO - S THE LEADER?' stage, because it is now that our children begin to develop autonomy, and it is vitally important that it is perfectly clear who is leading who! They become aware that they are separate individuals, with their own choices to make. However their increasing mobility, coupled with limited understanding and poor impulse control can lead to high levels of frustration for both children and their mothers! Children at this stage tend can be negative, stubborn and resistant to our offers of help. They want to be able to do things themselves! They also find it impossible to see things from any other perspective than their own, and they will often say 'no' when they really mean 'yes'! This is all very normal. It is our job to teach them how to be gentle, kind, cooperative, and to keep safe, and this requires constant monitoring. Use 'positive direction' and 'redirection', and learn to be effective at 'situation management', where you intervene BEFORE problems arise (overtiredness and over-stimulation are hazards to avoid!). If your child loses control and becomes aggressive, they need time to regain control. Make it clear you cannot allow this behaviour, using a calm and assertive voice, and remove them to a safe place, such as a chair or a brief time in their room. Please don't be intimidated by the performances of your children. This is their way of coping with frustration and anger, and is not intended on making your life miserable. Concentrate on the lesson you want to teach, not on the behaviour.
Now that your child's language and communication skills are improving, your teaching can become more verbal rather than action oriented. I call this the 'CHOICES' stage. Life is all about making choices, and this is where we begin to reinforce to our children that they are responsible for the choices they make. Help your child begin to monitor his own actions by intervening with a question, for example, 'Is that a good choice to make?' or 'Where do we throw balls?' or 'Would that be a kind thing to do?'. You can also utisise what I call a 'thinking chair', which is a place to sit and think about wrong behaviour. When you need to reinforce a limit, say 'you need to sit and have a think about what you did, then we will have a talk'. After a minute or two, ask your child what he thought about his actions. Ask him what would have been a better choice. Then tell him you are confident he can make that choice next time. However there will be times when you can offer no choice, for example, asking a child if he can wash his hands before lunch. If choice is not an option, simply make a positive statement eg., 'it's time to wash your hands now'. In the pre-school years, give a simple reason for rules, and help your child take on another person's perspective eg., 'hitting people is not allowed, because it is unkind, and it really hurts them.'
The key to being effective at discipline lies in your ability to motivate yourself, because the job is difficult and relentless! You need to believe in the long-term benefits of what you are doing, in order to persevere through each day. Apart from helping your child manage and be accountable for his actions, you are also helping him gain self-respect and self-worth, because when he consciously makes a right choice, he feels good about himself. So keep motivated and inspired, in the valuable and important work you are doing every day!
About the Author
Terri currently runs an Australian network of support for mums and is the author of 'Parenting Inc'.