I was a really good child, not because I wasn’t mischievous or experimental or curious like every child, but because I had a mother who believed in using the feather duster rod as a disciplinary tool.
And like most Asian moms, my mother had the “LOOK”, which I’m sure many of you are familiar with. It’s that “LOOK” that freezes every fibre in your body; that “LOOK” that says if you don’t stop what you’re doing right now, you’re getting the “ROD”.
Today, I’m a mother of two and I found myself using the “LOOK” once or twice with my 4-year-old son in an effort to discipline him. It worked. I don’t know if it was a lucky coincidence or perhaps my son is a lovely, accommodating boy.
With my 2-year-old daughter, the “LOOK” is completely ineffective. Whenever I tried it with her, she would mock me and promptly dissolve me into laughter.
Discipline is a tough subject for parents. There are so many “what ifs” and “what not’s”. Do we discipline or not? When and how should we discipline? What kind of disciplinary measures should we use? When does discipline become corporal punishment?
Then there are the questions based on our personal beliefs and experiences. Giving a “time-out” or smacking – which is more effective? Who is the disciplinarian – Mom or Dad? Is the “crime” deserving of the “punishment”? Are we under-disciplining or over-disciplining?
While researching on this subject, I found plenty of literature to help parents answer the above questions. But what about the child in this equation? What is his or her opinion on discipline? After all, we were all children once and how we were disciplined, now influences the way we discipline our children.
So in the name of fairness, this article is dedicated to explore discipline from a child’s perspective. What is discipline to a Child?
Discipline is INFORMATION
Children have a built-in mechanism called curiosity which challenges them to experiment, question and examine their immediate surroundings in their quest for knowledge.
They are compelled to defy the boundaries to confirm your allegations. If you say the iron is hot. Well, they need proof. If you tell them that the jungle gym is too high to climb, well, that’s a challenge they can’t resist.
Children’s love affair with the television is legendary. It’s a great source of information and they will watch it for hours if you allow it. These little geniuses know you’ll allow them to watch MORE television programs when you’re amazed. Hence, they offer snippets of social wisdom learned from Strawberry Shortcake, speak phrases of Spanish (courtesy of Handy Manny), and tell you about the distant places they’ve been with The Little Einsteins.
Discipline is SECURITY
Children like rules and routines. It gives them stability and familiarity. Once in a while, they like to test the boundaries and the authority of the rules (that’s you, mom & dad) to ensure that they are dependable. But the truth is that they are secretly entertained by mom and dad’s reactions to their “rebellion”.
Discipline is CONFUSING
Children are keen observers who enjoy emulating the behaviour of adults around them. My husband is big on manners and often instructs my son not to speak with his mouth full at the dining table. On a few occasions, he was caught talking with food in his mouth by my son and was gravely reprimanded.
Another point of contention is ambiguous instructions from adults. Contrary to what adults think, young children are unable to multitask. Thus, giving them multiple instructions only renders confusion. A more effective way to communicate would be to provide one or two succinct instructions at a time. In addition, the instructions should be conveyed in a language that is clear and simple for the child to understand. Sometimes, children seem defiant because they don’t know what the adult wants or how to fulfil instructions that they have been given.
Discipline is DISRESPECTFUL
Remember that day you had a million errands to run? And you were hurrying your child because you were behind schedule and distracted? He was dragging his feet and you asked “Why are you so slow? Come on, come on!!” Or remember the arguments that ended with you saying “because I said so…” to your child?
Children are a work in progress. Physically, their short legs are just unable to catch up with our long ones. Emotionally, they are still discovering where the buttons are and how to express themselves. Is it any wonder when they refuse to cooperate?
Children are people too. They desire respect and recognition as individuals with different temperaments. They feel affronted when adults deny their rights to accomplish tasks in their personal style, and protest with resistance, challenges and tantrums.
Discipline Tips for Parents
If you’ve instructed, demonstrated or clarified any information to your child, then without a doubt, you are a disciplinarian.
Often confused with punishment, a disciplinarian is really a teacher, a mentor or a leader to the child. Judith Graham, Extension human development specialist (Family Issues Facts), provided the following disciplinary guidelines for parents:
1. Set reasonable limits. Setting reasonable limits offers realistic parameters for children and helps them feel secure. Be consistent with your limits, otherwise you will confuse the children and risk added misbehaviour.
2. Explain consequences. When used properly, explaining consequences teaches children about responsibility and decision-making. Parents can adopt this strategy to help children understand that their choices produce results that may be unpleasant. For example, if the child chooses to touch a hot iron, he will get burn. However, parents must be willing to accept the child’s decision and grant the latitude of learning from experience (in a safe environment, of course).
Consequences can be natural or logical. Natural consequences let children learn the natural order of the world. For example, “If you don’t eat, you will be hungry.” Logical consequences are consequences that are arranged by the parents. For example, “If you don’t put your dirty clothes in the hamper, you won’t have clean clothes to wear to school.”
3. Take corrective action as soon as possible. It is important to correct misbehaviour soon after it occurs. Carry out the logical consequences you’ve established for your child. If you don’t, what are you really teaching your child?
4. Stay calm. Anger can “turn off” or “tune out” your child. It may make the corrective action ineffective. It may also create unneeded power plays. Any kind of punishment done calmly is more effective than that done in anger.
5. Provide a short time to “cool down.” Popularly known as a “timeout,” the intent is to allow parent and child time to calm down and manage their emotions such as anger. Timeout should be brief and not be mistaken by the child as punishment. Follow up after the timeout teaches the child the skill of regaining composure and the ability to resolve conflict calmly.
6. Set an example. Discipline is best taught by example.
Discipline is a difficult task for the parents but when it is executed properly, the rewards are overwhelmingly satisfying.