We were all set to enjoy a leisurely afternoon wandering the many aisles filled with many helpful and unnecessary items for sale. It was the first week of the school holidays, the shopping center was packed with bustling bodies all there for various reasons.
Though we were only there for five minutes when the first “I want” demand was announced. After trying many different tactics for 20 minutes (bargaining, distracting, demanding, physically removing from the item in question) – we found ourselves heading straight back to the car, admitting defeat and feeling embarrassed by the loud, obnoxious scene that was right there in full view of the public.
As parents, we expect that children’s behaviour will be difficult, and yet when it comes to our own children, we are often shocked at this unruly, disrespectful behaviour.
Why the shock? When we see bad behaviour we often put it down to either difficult children or bad parenting.
It is the “bad parenting” that scares us. I don’t believe that people deliberately decide to be bad parents; we do the best with what we know. However when our child starts acting out especially in front of strangers; our guard goes up and we desperately try to curtail the screams of a child’s tantrum, which often just ends up causing more noise and pain than it would have if we just ignored the situation.
Though we cannot ignore all tantrums. This is the important point – people often say “ignore them, they just want attention”, when the opposite is needed! We actually need to pay attention because they need direction. How far will they push the limits to make us teach them where their boundaries are?
Children cannot be held at the same level as adults, the way children learn their boundaries is to push them – can they be trusted? will the safety net fail? are they allowed to go there?
So how does this affect our approach when it comes to discipline?
1. When your child misbehaves, isn’t a pure reflection on your parenting – so try hard not to take it personally.
2. Misbehaviour may be an indication that there are boundaries that the child is unclear about – this comes back to not taking it personally – if we take this personally chances are we will not notice what the boundary is which needs to be addressed – adding confusion to the child and therefore increasing the chance that they may push that boundary once again (if not many more times).
3. Create clear family rules (broad rules, e.g. is it kind, is it safe, is it fair) and ensure the child is familiar with them.
4. Stick to those family rules – before reacting to certain behaviour, identify which rule has actually been broken, if the rule had not been addressed, consider does it actually need to be included and revise the rules accordingly.
5. This is the hardest point – Ensure you have self-control yourself. Discipline is ultimately training a child in the way they are to go, by correcting them in anger and frustration is not just teaching them that what they did was wrong, it is actually teaching them how to communicate when they are not happy.
Instead, take time to calm yourself so you can send your message clearly and correctly. This is still a work in progress for myself, and I dare say it will continue to be for a long time yet.
Discipline is not just an act of correction – it is a lifetime of direction. By keeping these five basic points in mind, we can start to see a difference in both our children and ourselves.