How to discipline children 0-7 years old, in this day and age.
Updated: Sep 30, 2019
The mainstream definition and advice for parents in regards to discipline includes using discipline strategies, such as giving consequences or time-out, in order to teach children "good behaviour" and/or "how to behave".
Clinical psychologist and parenting author Shefali Tsabary argues that "disciplinary strategies are just a means of control and manipulation” and that “it’s our lack of understanding of how to create appropriate boundaries that results in what we call a ‘disciplinary issue’, as if it were the child’s fault”.
The healthy, strong, genuine relationship we want with our child, doesn’t come from instilling fear, pain or torment, "coming down hard" or making children feel bad. But you would be surprised to find that:
- causing physical pain,
- scaring children,
- comparing them to other children,
- making them feel like the adult is the enemy,
- telling them they are "trouble" or "in trouble",
- yelling at kids while saying “Why are you crying?!’ and “You’re driving me mad!”
- holding fingers over lips and "shushing" children,
- releasing our frustration onto them,
- embarrassing them in public,
- giving lectures,
is the "norm" within families in the name of discipline and teaching children.
Now, I am not advocating for no boundaries, permissive parenting nor violent "entitled brat" behaviour from our kids.
But expecting blind obedience literally backfires, leaving combustion, explosion or both in the form of resentment, resistance and retaliation, unhealthy rebellion and domestication.
What I am saying is: Get comfortable with being a guide for your child rather than a prison guard.
We can have cooperation, we can have respectful relationships between parent and children, we can raise kind, empathetic kids when we approach family-living from a perspective of "we are a team" and "I’m in your corner" rather than sending them to one.
And I get it, I’ve been a mum for over 9 years and sometimes I have wished my sons do what I ask them to do right now because I am tired or triggered or both, or because I think my way is the best way, but I ask myself:
Is my behaviour and expectations, during those circumstances, actually helping them in the long run?
Is being obedient helping my children learn life skills and succeed in life?
When we get comfortable with being in partnership with our child rather than bringing out the organisational chart and putting ourselves at the top, we are saying no to control and manipulation.
You may be wondering: "But what do I do then, when my child actually ‘misbehaves’?
Is there "bad" behaviour? Is there "good" behaviour?
I see behaviour as communication.
"Meltdowns and tantrums are not purposeful misbehaviour. That’s why it’s important to not punish or offer negative consequences for such behaviours.
In the moment, a child needs soothing, not lecturing or consequences—or punishment, which sends the human nervous system into increasing levels of distress"
If we could remember this simple, yet powerful line:
Behaviour is communication
whenever we believe our child is "misbehaving" according to our expectations or beliefs, the question that will most likely follow is:
“What is my child trying to communicate through her/his behaviour?"
It might be hunger, or tiredness or a difficult day at school, or a fall out with a friend or finding it hard to master something, or not wanting to go to [swim] class, or to training. It might a growth spurt, actual physical pain, or emotional pain.
It could be a myriad of things, but let me ask you:
Is threatening and giving a consequence of, say, “‘no screen-watching for a week’ if you don’t stop misbehaving” solve the problem?
Is giving a lecture, yelling, blaming, or saying “you are driving me mad” going to help their issue?
What will help the problem or the issue?
Making discipline about connection. Making discipline about:
- paying attention and bearing witness to our child,
- supporting our child in building self-discipline skills such as inner security and confidence,
- supporting our child in practicing life skills such as emotional intelligence, self-regulation, and problem-solving,
- uplifting rather than diminishing in our role as parents,
- creating a safe and inclusive family environment,
- working things out with our child and learning together for everyone’s benefit,
- communicating honestly and effectively,
- supporting our child in being leaders of their own life.
That would help. That would help tremendously!
That would help not only your child, yourself and your family, but it would help your neighbourhood, your community, your country...the world.
Children are not livestock, they are not tasks, they are not objects, they aren’t criminals, and they aren't servants either.
We must move away from needing to tame, trial, wrangle and manage our children so they can learn "how to behave".
Children are complete human beings who may be in need of some guidance from an adult they trust.
"These days, leadership isn’t about command and control.
We need people who can demonstrate passion, authenticity and fairness, and be comfortable with ambiguity - to see both sides of the situation.
One of the most important qualities of a great leader is empathy"
~ Tony Johnson
I promise you: Your child is not out to get you when they "misbehave" and they aren't trying to make your life miserable.
In this light, and when we leave control and manipulation out the door, doesn’t disciplining our child sounds like the greatest honour and service we could do?
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