May 1, 2011

How should you discipline your children?

Category: Boundaries and Discipline
Posted By: Susie
picture of girl sticking her tongue outThere are so many theories out there about how to discipline your children - what do you suggest is the best way to get your kids to do what you need them to do?

Answer:

Oh what a complicated problem in such a small question! The difficulty with most of the 'theories out there' that you mention is that they describe techniques that you apply to your children. I'm afraid my suggestions are a lot less parent-friendly in that they do not suggest three steps and then you're done or any of the other short, sharp solutions. My belief is that it hinges on your relationship with your children. That the most important factor is that you behave in a way with your children that means that they trust you and you ask them to work with you as a team. That they know the subtle difference between a negotiable "oh I really don't think so" and the instantly-to-be-obeyed terrified bark of "stop" as they wander towards the curb in the face of oncoming traffic.

We have a general attitude of control in our society. We expect obedience and we take it personally if we are defied. We also tend to see our children as quite helpless and that it is our job to give the orders because they don't have the knowledge we do. What I believe is most helpful is to start giving them the knowledge much earlier than we currently do. Children have excellent instincts and they are able to understand even complex language much earlier than then can speak it and can take on board complexities of tone and subtle emotional dynamics.

If we talk about why we need them to do things, and give them the information about their own safety, or the practical reasons why they need to cooperate children are generally social beings and will participate. Unfortunately our lives are so very busy that what we end up doing is either barking out orders or saying a sharp, unexplained "NO". You can imagine it in yourself, if someone just says 'no' we are likely to react rebelliously, it is the start of an argument. Whereas if someone says, "that's very a very sharp knife, please don't touch it" or "that's Ruby's toy, it belongs to her so we can't just take it off her" or whatever other explanation is necessary, over time what we call 'discipline' will make much more sense to our children and we can ask them to work with us towards what is, after all, a common goal; a safe, happy family that functionals well.

What I have described should not be taken as an inability to put down boundaries. There is a very strong boundary, an expectation that the family work as a unit, and the child participates in this. There is an expectation the children trust the adults to have the overall best interests of everyone in mind and that this will prove to be a fair system in which everyone's needs are taken in to account.

While this sounds a little utopian I have to put in a couple of provisos, there may be several reasons why a child or toddler who normally behaves well suddenly starts behaving badly and usually there is some reason which it would help to think about. Equally children, like their parents get tired or overwhelmed and in these instances (which every parent has experienced) they are not reachable and we need to just mediate the situation until the tiredness or the overwhelm has been remedied and we can start again to ask them to cooperate.



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