After a long day – juggling a million things on your to-do list, the last thing you probably feel like doing is disciplining your child or getting into a fight over something small like tidying up toys or taking a bath.
You might even be afraid of making your child angry. But that’s a lot of power to give your 3-year old or 5-year old, says CEO of Living On The Edge, and author, Chip Ingram. “A better response is to grit your teeth and bear the anger of your child because it’s better to make him frown than let him act destructively. The frown won’t last forever, but the destructive behaviour might,” he adds.
Educator, counsellor and author of Parenting with Panache, Dereck Jackson agrees. He says that in our modern, liberal society, many parents are afraid to establish rules and boundaries in their homes for fear of upsetting or offending their children. “Parents also argue that they don’t want to crush their children’s creative spirit by putting rules in place,” explains Dereck. But the truth is, children thrive more with boundaries and rules, than without them.
“Most parents I work with want their children to progress through school, attend some form of tertiary education, get a job, get married and lead a successful, independent life. If this is what you’re aiming for, then your child will need to respect the rules of society and this starts at home,” he explains.
Why you should prioritise discipline
It’s an expression of love
One of the most powerful ways to love your child is to be consistent in your discipline. And it’s hard because we’re inclined to do whatever we can to maintain a friendship with our children. But, discipline is actually more important, maintains Chip. He believes that discipline always seeks your child’s best interest. It’s hard and it hurts temporarily but to compromise your child’s welfare from fear of losing favour will hurt much worse later.
In one of his lectures on discipline, Chip revealed the findings of a research study where a group of juvenile delinquents were asked how they knew their parents’ feelings towards them. Almost all of them said a lack of discipline in their home was a sign that their parents didn’t love them.
Parents often think they’re expressing love when they let things slide or keep giving their kids another chance, but in the long run, this doesn’t help children feel secure. The aim is to show your children that you’re in charge in the home and that your children are loved and safe. You put rules in place because you care, not because you don’t care – and this starts from a young age.
“If children perceive that there’s no authority in the home, then one of them will assume the mantle of authority with disastrous consequences,” explains Dereck. “Much of the bizarre behaviour displayed by children who are not disciplined is in many ways:
- A cry for help
- A cry for security
- A cry for control.
It helps to guide your children
Establishing clear rules and boundaries, as well as maintaining discipline in your home goes together with a structured routine. Children like predictability and to know what to expect, at school and at home, explains lecturer, teacher and education expert, Simone Tonkin.
It’s a good idea to tell your children what you expect around:
- Play time (where to play and when to tidy up)
- Chores around the house (be sure to make them age-appropriate)
- Bath time (when to bath and how to hang up towels etc.)
- Bedtime (when to sleep and wake up)
- How they treat their siblings, pets, etc.
- How they talk to you.
Dereck explains that creating this structure and routine will help guide and lead your children towards good habits and responsible behaviour. It will also help them to become more effective parents themselves one day.
It teaches your child empathy and kindness
Children are naturally self-centred and self-focused, and it takes time to teach them empathy and kindness, says Simone. Teaching your children how to be kind and think of others is a form of discipline. This is because you’re constantly encouraging them to choose kindness over rudeness and to think of how they speak and act towards others. If they fail to do so, that is, they constantly backchat or speak rudely to others, it’s important to nip this in the bud early and to correct them, says Simone. If you don’t they could easily develop this habit and think it’s okay, which will be hard to break later.
Kindness is an essential life skill that starts early on. Although children only learn true empathy around age 5, it’s never too early to teach them to respect you as the parent as well as others including siblings, pets, and other adults (teachers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, etc).
Remember there’s a big difference between being assertive and being selfish or rude. The aim is to help your child communicate clearly and stand up for what he wants, but in a respectful way towards others. The way you regulate how your child speaks and acts towards you and other people needs to become a part of who they are so that when you remove the regulations, the right behaviour remains, adds Chip.
How to discipline effectively
Firstly, it’s important to establish that you are in charge and you’re not your child’s best friend, as this creates confusion, says Dereck.
“You should love, support and be friendly to your child, but you’re not your child’s friend. You’re an authoritive figure who needs to be respected,” he adds.
If your child does something wrong or directly defies you, Dereck outlines these steps to effective discipline:
- Don’t nag
- Don’t preach
- Don’t tell war stories
- Give an assertive, effective command (If you do it properly, 9 times out of 10, your child will respond positively.)
- Avoid long punishments. (Give your child a quick time-out, rather than a long one.)
You don’t need to smack your child if you don’t believe in it, says Dereck. Diverting your child’s attention is a good strategy. In fact, 90% of your action ought to involve diverting attention. Deducting TV and pocket money is effective as they grow older.
When NOT to discipline your child
You only start to discipline your child when he becomes mobile and can communicate effectively. Until then, it’s about keeping your child safe, says Dereck. “It’s your job to ensure that you don’t place high expectations on your little one. For instance, you shouldn’t be in a supermarket when your child needs to be fed or have a nap. If you are the chances are good that your child will have a meltdown because he’s overstimulated, feeling hungry or tired. At this age, it’s important to be aware of your child’s cues and respond quickly to avoid possible tantrums.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .