Parenting has many joys, but for most parents disciplining their children isn’t one of them. More often than not, you and your children walk away feeling drained and you begin to behave like opponents, rather than family.
Whenever you set out to achieve something, you need to understand what your goal is. What is the aim of discipline? Is it to get your child to do as you say? Is it to help your child learn how to behave appropriately in various situations? Or is it to help your child learn to make healthy choices? It’s essential that your child learns self-control – because the best form of discipline is self-discipline.
What not to do
- Threaten: “If you don’t do this, I will punish you.”
- Intimidate: “Do that one more time and you’ll see what I’ll do.”
- Bribe: “You’ll get a sweet if you do this.”
- Control: “Why? Because I said so.”
These methods of discipline all have one thing in common − you have all the power and your child has none.
The powerless child
The forms of discipline outlined above teach your child that you will correct his behaviour when it’s wrong, so he doesn’t have to self-regulate.
When you aren’t there, your child is unable to exercise control because he has never had to do so − he has only been forced or bribed to behave in a certain way. He feels no guilt or sense of conscience because he doesn’t face any threat or intimidation when you aren’t around. This leads to a child who only feels bad when he is caught going against your rules − not because he feels the behaviour is wrong, but because he was found out.
How to facilitate self-discipline
When your child is about two years old, it’s time to stop telling him what to do and offer him limited choices instead.
- Give the power over to your child. Give him the opportunity to make a tiny choice.
- Use the correct label. Use the words “you can choose” to label where the responsibility lies.
- Set a healthy choice. For example, when your child is hovering around the plate of biscuits at a party you could say, “You can choose to eat one biscuit and go play or you can choose to go play and have no biscuit.”
- Use few words. Don’t lecture or explain, just make the options clear.
- Match the consequence to the choice.
- Don’t reverse the decision. Explain to your child that the moment he makes a choice is the moment he chooses the consequence. This is vital and non-negotiable. For example, if you say, “If you choose to hit your sister, you choose not to watch TV today,” but your son continues to hit his sister, it is essential that he is not allowed to watch TV for the rest of the day − regardless of what he does to make amends.
What he’ll learn
This method of discipline teaches him to choose his consequences. He feels the consequences and learns how to adjust his behaviour to obtain the results he wants. This means later in life when you aren’t there to shout at him or punish him for his poor choices, he will learn to think for himself and correct his behaviour himself.
5 tips for discipline through choice
- Use complex words. For example, say, “We have to convene to discuss our policy on this matter.” This confusion will help your child stop what he is doing and focus on you.
- Have a plan for negotiation. If your child tries to negotiate, you can empathise, but fall back on the choice.
- Never surrender. Uphold the consequences. If you surrender, your child will always push the boundaries in the hope that you might give in this time. If you never give in, your child will learn faster.
- Pay attention. Be aware that acting out happens when we aren’t paying attention to our child. Children need our attention to propel their lives forward, so be aware of your distractions and minimise them.
- Keep choices proportionate to the size of the child. Tiny choices for tiny children. Big choices for big children.
- Observe his obsessions. Your child will respond better to consequences that mean something to him. Find out what these are and use them wisely to guide his growth.