Imagine this scenario: You’re out shopping and your child suddenly throws himself on the floor, bawling his eyes out because you refused to buy that expensive toy for him. You try to calm him down by playing nice and telling him off calmly, but to no avail. You move on to bribing techniques you aren’t even proud of, thinking that will solve it – which child doesn’t want ice cream right? Nope, still no effect.
You negotiate and persuade (almost on your knees now), begging him to quiet down. Whatever you do, it’s falling on deaf ears. Finally, you give up and spank his bottom out of frustration and embarrassment. You regret it instantly when he just wails harder and louder than ever, and to top it off, you’ve just been deemed a horrible parent in front of other shoppers.
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It is a scenario I have witnessed one too many times in public places and arguably one of the most stressful positions for any parent to be in. For those of you breathing a sigh of relief that that time is now over, done and dusted – hold that breath.
Discipline is a lifetime commitment. As your child matures, tantrums may reappear as defiance; disobedience may take the form of truancy; playfulness becomes recklessness. What then are parents to do in today’s overbearingly protective world where children define the standards of discipline?
This is where creative disciplining comes in. Creative discipline questions traditional methods to test effectiveness, relevance and regret. In fact, it stresses that discipline should never be cruel, just uncomfortable enough to get children’s attention. Here are some key strategies to pay attention to, the next time your child acts up.
1. Establish 3 ground rules
It is known that three is the magic number. When you listen to presentations, be it long or short, good speakers always manage to seamlessly summarise their entire speech into three takeaways. This is because no matter how interesting and entertaining a presentation is, the human brain can only take in 3 big points at one go.
Whatever else can always be linked back to these three points. Using this same concept, establish just three ground rules that form the basis of all your disciplinary actions. These should be values you want to instil in your children, not necessarily actual tactics.
For example, you can teach your children from the get-go that families support and help each other out, no matter what. When help is needed, everyone pitches in and helps within their capabilities. This way, when someone is in trouble, you can fall back on this ground rule and avoid any sibling rivalry.
2. What will my child learn?
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This will probably be the most important thing you need to ask yourself before coming up with your disciplinary action or punishment. When you are able to identify what your child needs to learn from a misbehaviour, you are able to craft a disciplinary action that is objective rather than one based on emotion. Whatever disciplinary action you end up taking, be mindful of these three points.
- Be clear on the behaviour you are seeking from your child
- Spell out the consequences for compliance and non-compliance
- Discipline with consistency and independent of your state of mind
For example, if your child constantly refuses to put his toys away, take control and put away his entire toy collection except one item – his least favourite. Store the rest somewhere only you know. Be sure to explain why you removed his toy privileges. If he shows he can put away that one toy after playing, reward him by letting him pick another item. The goal is to make him work his way up to his favourite toy, so you may even preselect the toys for him to gradually lead up to that. Remember to always acknowledge the targeted behaviour. If at any point he forgets to put away the toys after earning back a few, repeat the whole process from scratch!
Tip: Always nip discipline in the bud. Waiting till it gets out of control to rectify will only need more work.
3. Match the discipline to the misbehaviour
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For children to learn from their mistakes, their punishment has to be linked to their misbehaviour, or be a natural consequence of their actions.
For example, if your child doesn’t complete his homework, the consequence may be missing playtime or TV time to catch up on it. However, if you were to make him stand in a corner or get him to do chores for the entire week, on top of completing his homework, it doesn’t make sense. Why pile him with even more work when he’s already struggling with one? It may demoralise him further and he’ll find ways to cheat through homework time. Instead, taking away precious, enjoyable moments that they treasure not only teaches them that there is a time for everything but imparts in them time-management skills.
Similarly, make your consequences age-appropriate. You don’t want to be asking your three-year-old to reflect on his behaviour, nor do you want to be spoon-feeding your 12-year-old with solutions to all his problems. Believe it or not, in this modern parenting age, it’s not uncommon for me to see parents asking their three-year-olds to make decisions about class timings at my school, only to find out later on that the timing chosen interferes with their child’s naptime! While it is good to discuss things with your children, there are some things that just aren’t age-appropriate, and that includes discipline.
Remember that at the end of the day, discipline is not a way for parents to show they are in control, nor is it a way for children to demand attention. Instead discipline should be about teaching a set of life skills that include empathy, time management, problem solving and respect.