For many parents the word discipline has very negative connotations. We associate it with our own childhood and it can conjure up some pretty unpleasant memories! Some of us associate discipline with corporal punishment, with spanking, hitting and being hurt both physically and emotionally. The problem around this is often parents unwittingly emulate the discipline patterns with their own children that they received, or pendulum swing to the opposite and become limitless with few boundaries.
There is a middle ground. Parenting discipline, for me, is about teaching children ways to grow that enable them to feel safe, have self respect, self control, and empathy for others. I do not believe in harsh, punitive or punishing methods of discipline. But I am a firm believer that all children need to have boundaries and limits, and they need us to put these limits in place for them.
Good discipline is about being firm, clear and consistent as parents - about being definite, kind and respectful - about showing, teaching and enabling our children. I believe that at the heart of good parenting discipline are clear, firm and consistent limits with explanations, conversations, teaching and consequences.
Teaching Self Respect through Understanding From an early age our children want and need our approval. They need to know that they are loved, cherished and wanted. They really do not like to be out of sorts with us and need to feel closely attached in order to enable a growing sense of self respect.
In other words they want to do what is right in order to have our constant approval. They want to know how to do the right thing and they need us to teach them the way to go about this.
By explaining and helping them to understand, our children can learn how to do the right thing. This method of discipline works well when a regular place in the house is used as the 'teaching and explaining' place. Maybe you will choose to sit in the same place in the living room each time you explain what behaviour is required. I tend to sit my children up on a high bar stool at the kitchen bench so I can maintain good eye contact with them.
Ask your child to tell you what happened. "I dropped food on the carpet". Then ask, “Why do you think that happened?” "I was watching television." What could you do differently next time? "Sit at the table." How can we fix this? "I can clean it up." Right, so please do that now. Even very young children learn better if there is a natural consequence for their behaviour. In this case, having to clean up and turning off the television was the consequence. There is no punishment going on here, just natural consequences for their actions. This all takes time, attention and energy and requires that you are in a calm and considerate place with your child. If the behaviour is far worse than just spilling food, for instance, you may need to request time out until you calm down. Your teaching conversation needs to be age appropriate and adjusted to your children's ability. The beauty of this method is that when it is consistent, children learn how to think about their behaviour, its consequences and effects on others, and how to make changes and choices. Parenting Discipline through Boundaries and Limits Children learn best when rules are simply and clearly stated. As they grow and develop, you can allow your children to set their own limits and to decide what good boundaries are by constantly increasing their opportunities for making their own decisions. As you watch children's developing sense of responsibility, it is clear that they thrive on rules and limits. Listen to any group of children playing and it becomes clear that they set the rules for their games clearly and with positive intent. They like to know what is expected and how to go about it. Setting simple limits and defining them in a positive way helps children to become good decision makers. For instance, instead of saying, "Do up your seat belt", try explaining that the car doesn't move until all seat belts are done up! Instead of saying, "Don't drop your food on the carpet", try saying, “We all eat best when sitting up to the table.” Setting boundaries isn't about policing your children; it's about teaching them to respect the rights and needs of others as well as themselves. This helps them to learn self respect, self control and empathy. Parenting Discipline through Consequences Older children learn quickly if they experience the consequences of their negative behaviour. They can quickly understand about cause and effect and learn how to have a sense of responsibility. Experiencing consequences also helps children to become more empathetic and aware of their surroundings. All our actions have an impact somehow or other in the world and children who grow up knowing this become more considerate, kind hearted and compassionate. I believe that experiencing the consequences of their own negative choices teaches children quickly. Children who are taught how to think, how to consider others, and how to take responsibility for their own actions become motivated, intuitive spontaneous and creative human beings. They become thirsty for knowledge, develop a strong sense of personal responsibility and learn to be tolerant, warm and caring individuals. Natural, reasonable consequences are a child's best teacher. For instance, if you don't wear a jacket you get cold and wet. If you forget your sports clothes you cannot take part. If you don't pack your lunch you will be hungry. If you break or damage something through your carelessness, you must replace it. If you make a mess, you clean it up. Parenting discipline is about consistently teaching your children with compassion and with respect to be the best they can - to think for themselves, to experience the consequences of their own actions and to take responsibility for their own behaviour. The rewards are warm, empathetic, considerate, caring individuals who show awareness for themselves, their environment and for each other.