“Unless we go park….” “unless we get ice-cream…” My 4 yr old has discovered the power of the ultimatum. Where before a trip to the shops, the bank or worse…. the post office heralded a sigh and the occasional gripping hold of the couch in defiance. Now she stomps her foot and demands “unless we go park too.” Of course I am not giving in…. well okay on occasion when it means actually getting out the door. I know Supernanny Jo Frost would not be impressed! The truth is we normally run by the park on the way home, so I know she is only testing me and, but how as parents do we deal with this rebellion, this testing the limits? How effective are our discipline methods? Like a lot of parents, my husband and I use the gentle on-their-level tactics encouraged by parenting magazines and TV shows. My Mother can’t keep track and laments the good old days in a “your mother would never have gotten away with that” manner. Which makes me wonder about the good old days… where a look from my mother would make me turn the other way; tail between my legs. Now I’m not saying bring back the olden days of counting pennies (which appear to be upon us again anyway) or smacking bottoms, however are we raising our children to be adults or to remain children?
The pressure to follow the most current parenting trends and the bombardment of advice on how to discipline your children… has parenting ever been this difficult? I know a mother who refuses to talk to a fellow mom since she saw her tap her child on his hand for attempting to open a hot oven. I was there, it was tap; a little warning and acknowledgement of danger. Apparently mom one does not agree with this and so has cut all ties with mom 2. A similar story came to light recently when an old friend firstly laughed when I put my youngest on the naughty step (thinking step as we call it – more PC!) “You’re not seriously going to make her sit there, are you?” To which my daughter immediately got up to move. “Of course I am, this is the way we do it,” I informed her. It reminded me of the time when my Mother in law first witnessed the thinking step and thought it was almost barbaric to make a child sit there for three minutes and think about what she had done.
In the past parents have resorted to shoes and belts; which merely terrified their children into subversion. As a child I distinctly remember watching with disgust as my ten year old neighbor was publicly tanned with a shoe on his bare backside at the front of his house. The image still torments me; it was pure pain and embarrassment for him. I remember in that instant feeling fortunate for the parents I had, who disciplined me with a strict voice rarely used but that always worked, a few bottom slaps, some idle threats and loads of love, cuddles and positive reassurance. They always made me want to be better.
So how do you discipline your children? And do children need to be punished or disciplined? As Valya Telep (Virginia State University) so wonderfully puts it “Whereas punishment focuses on the child, discipline targets the act.” As parents what are we aiming for in disciplining our children? Do we hope they will learn from their mistake? Or are we hoping to frighten them enough that they will not do it again?
A firm voice is always half the battle in my opinion. Those moments in the supermarket where your child is dumping everything in the trolley or decides to do an impromptu cartwheel in the middle of the aisle; the strict voice and a steely glare does wonders. Yet is the strict voice enough; is it merely a deterrent or a guide? I have one friend who terrifies me when she raises her voice. Although being honest I don’t think there is a mum out there who hasn’t blown her lid a couple of times. Yet is this teaching children that they need to shout to state a point? And as children grow does it have the same effect?
Do you believe in the hand tap or is that a precursor to physical discipline? Will it leave children with a predisposition to hit? As a child, I got the odd smack and as many will confess “it did me no harm.” Mind, I am definitely not a proponent of smacking; I have never hit my girls. Yet for the very young is a tap on the hand really that bad? Many will argue that it teaches to every action, there is a consequence or reaction. Then of course there is the question of where do you draw the line?
Many now prefer the gentle version of a thinking step, which for ours appeared to work for a long time. I liked the idea of them realizing what they had done wrong and hopefully learning from it, but truthfully I’m not sure if they really did. After three minutes it would be “so why did mommy put you here?” followed by a confused “because I was bold.” As they got older it really did help, it wasn’t so much a punishment as realization time. Yet now as they grow even bigger and giggling put themselves on it; it’s time to rethink.
Reward charts seem to be favoured by schools and appear to work. I know they did for mine when they were being potty trained. Watching the collection of stickers grow really did build their self esteem and pride. However the prize or treat at the end has some mothers questioning its lesson. Many will argue that the reward should be in the encouragement not the prize. Can we expect children as adults to continue to do good even if there is no prize at the end of it?
Another form of discipline is the removal of favourite toys, again presenting questions such as “which toy is special enough to make a difference yet not reduce the child to panic attack until it is handed back? Of course this method can work well if followed through consistently, but when the dinner is burning and the house is in chaos perpetuated by a child’s scream for their favourite toys; it’s hard to stay strong.
Our latest is the stones in the jar approach. Each of the girls has a stone and every time they do something good, they get a stone. If they misbehave, a stone is removed. If they get enough stones, they can get a treat. Now my idea of a treat is something small like stickers. However having spoken to other moms I have realized treats vary and also depend on parents and parental communication. One child I know got her necessary stones and Daddy brought her to pick out a treat; a gigantic doll (which would have been better saved for Christmas or a birthday according to her mom.) So far the stones appear to be working in our house and there has been some healthy competition for them. Which, yesterday resulted in a flood in the sitting room as the kids tried to outdo each other in washing the floor: the mantelpiece: the table: chairs etc… all for a precious stone. Of course at other times they have to be reminded of their empty jars.
The truth is that there are many methods of discipline but one of the most important things is communication. A child is never a bold child, they must always be reminded that they are not bold but just did a bold thing. Similarly encouragement and positive feedback can be the greatest deterrents to bad behavior. Even as a child I remember my mother’s face glowing after I’d tidied my room or vacuumed the hall. Praise and a hug are better remembered than cruel words or a smack. In fact the latter are what convince many children they are bad and sometimes prevents them from fulfilling their potential. A very old friend once told me that he was always introduced as ‘the bold one” or “the bad one,” in comparison to the “the good son” (his brother.) He believed it and grew into that description; it took him a long time and a lot of love to realize he could be good.
I believe discipline is vital to growth and everyone knows that children need some guidance and some boundaries. According to Valya Telep effective discipline should help, teach, and assist the child in learning from their mistakes. Someone to talk to and unconditional love go a long way in offering guidance and in creating boundaries. So whatever method you believe in, whatever tricks you use; remember your ultimate goal is to raise an confident, aware and loving human being, who knows he can make mistakes and recover from them. Discipline should guide children, not scare them and the love and hugs they receive afterwards will help build that unconditional love that a child can return to whenever they need it as an adult. As Bill Ayers writes so beautifully,
“Your kids require you most of all to love them for who they are, not to spend your whole time trying to correct them.”
Some sites you may enjoy:
Valya Telep, Virginia State University: http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/350/350-110/350-110.html