To smack or not to smack?
Discipline is absolutely essential if we want our children to feel secure and contained. Anne Cawood looks at the right, and wrong ways of teaching children how to behave.

An indepth assessment of what we see discipline as, will usually lead to the admission that we see discipline and punishment as synonymous. We have no intention of beating or harming our children in any way, yet we justify the early smacks on the nappy-covered bottom, or on the hand, as the best way to make the point that they may not behave in certain ways. We go on to assert that our children need to learn acceptable behaviour and to become socialised into the norms of society. All well and good!

But, before perpetuating these ineffective methods, we need to take a more thorough look at what we areactually teaching our children by the ways in which we handle their negative behaviour. First of all, the very word "discipline" derives from theword "disciple” – someone who teaches, guides and leads positively. We can therefore discard the word "punishment" completely. This word has connotations which are harsh, punitive and external.

Taming toddlers
The essential aspect of effective discipline, is to learn from the consequences of choices made.

Our goal is to raise children who are confident, happy and especially, self-disciplined. If our children learn to behave acceptably through fear or avoidance, i.e. they do not behave badly because they fear the wooden spoon or the smack or hiding, then they are not learning the lessons which will inculcate eventual mature self-discipline.

Discipline is absolutely essential if we want our children to feel secure and contained. They need to know that we, the important adults in their lives, are capable and skilled enough to provide these essential limits/rules and boundaries.

We do this by ensuring that they know what these rules and expectations are. The problem is that we are unsure and inconsistent. We allow something one day, but disallow it the next. We are patient and calm one moment – but then suddenly become impatient and harsh the next. We become unreasonably angry about behaviours which are developmentally normal for a child of that age and we use over-harsh language too frequently.

We say "no" too much and do not give young children enough warning about future events eg we suddenly realise that it is time to leave the park to go home and make supper – and expect our three year old to instantly obey our orders to end playing on the jungle gym because it is getting late. No wonder that they then become resistant. If you were enjoying yourself, and your partner suddenly orders you to drop what you are doing and get in the car immediately, would you instantly obey? I hope not. Everyone deserves to be spoken to respectfully – and timeously. Even if that person is only 3 or 4 years old!

So, we actually bring on resistance by the way we speak and by our unrealistic expectations. We need to do the ground work first if we want our discipline methods to be effective.

Talk less, avoid shouting and impress on the child early in the process that you will follow through with consequences when you give the child a choice. Do not beg, plead, threaten, nag and then justify the eventual smack by saying that you tried everything and then had no option but to resort to smacking! If you yell and threaten less, then the stronger voice, kept for those life-threatening situations, will be every bit as effective as that smack – and more so!

Effective discipline requires the following:
1. State the rule in a clear, strong voice: "We need to clear away the toys before we play in the garden."
2. Give the choice with a consequence:. "If the toys are not put away, there will be no playing outside."
3. Allow the consequences: "I see that you have chosen not to play outside."
4. Stay firm and consistent: "I can see that you are cross, but we had a deal."

Many parents allow the process to break down by becoming angry and irrational when the child throws a fit as soon as the parent insists on the consequence. Some of the more stubborn children, will state very defiantly that they do not care about the consequence.

"I dont want to go outside anyway!" This is where the acid test occurs!! Stay calm and stick to your word. It does not matter whether they care or not what will make the eventual difference is that they will learn that you mean what you say, that you are not being nasty and they are actually making their own choices!

Some children are more difficult and defiant. Do NOT fall into the trap of being pulled into the downward power struggle. Remember you are the adult and it is your reaction to the bad behaviour that will determine the long-term outcome of how the child will behave in the future. Becoming harsh and retaliatory will only reinforce the negative spirals of futile power struggles.

Do you spank your toddler? Are you angry or is it because he is really naughty? Do you feel he learnt his lesson?

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