The subject of parenting and discipline often sparks heated debate and much of this stems from the use of the word ‘discipline’ itself, which conjures up a picture of harsh and unreasonable punishment in the minds of many parents. Indeed, the debate over discipline has resulted in many parents moving to the opposite and of the scale and adopting an approach which can best be described as excessively permissive.
We all need discipline in our lives and, as adults, we see this as self-discipline. We know what is right and what is wrong and what we should do and what we should not do. We also know that there are many things in life which we don’t particularly want to do, but which are necessary if we are to progress through the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
But such self-discipline does not come naturally and it is something that we have to learn as we grow up and something that as parents we need to teach our children.
The first and perhaps most important lesson which we have to learn as parents is that our children are individuals and that our approach to disciplining individual children needs to recognize this fact. What may be appropriate for one child will not necessarily be appropriate or effective with another.
The second thing that we need to realize is that discipline must be linked to a child’s level of understanding. While this is largely a function of age, children will develop both physically and intellectually at differing rates and this too needs to be taken into account.
For example, there is little point in trying to have a deep and meaningful discussion with a three year old about the rights and wrongs of taking sweets from the shelf in the local supermarket. At the same time, sending a sixteen year old to his room simply because ‘I say so’ is also of little benefit.
The secret is to acknowledge that your response to bad behavior must be appropriate to the age of the child but also to understand that it must be appropriate to the individual child.
Another extremely important principle of discipline is that your response to bad behavior should be both considered and be seen as being considered. You should never simply react to a situation on impulse and certainly not out of anger.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are angry then take a moment to compose yourself before saying or doing anything. If necessary call a ‘time out’. Walk away from the situation and take the time to decide what to do, if necessary discussing an appropriate response with your spouse, before saying anything to the child or taking any action. The delay should not be too long and it certainly wouldn’t be appropriate in most cases to punish an action days or weeks later. But ‘sleeping’ on a problem can often be very helpful.
Discussing a problem with a teenager after a night’s sleep for example can be extremely effective giving the teenager time to think about what he or she has done and also giving you time to think carefully about the lesson that the teenager needs to learn and how best that lesson can be taught. It also demonstrates to the teenager that you are concerned about this issue and that you have taken time to consider it carefully, rather than simply reacting on impulse or out of anger.
Discipline is a necessary part of parenting and is not always easy. However, a realization that your role is not simply to punish your children but to teach them a lesson and help them to develop a valuable life skill will go a long way to taking away much of the unpleasantness often associated with disciplining children.