Many parents today remain confused about disciplining their children. They understand that smacking can cause problems if used in anger. But when a single alternative such as ‘time out’ is tried instead, that sometimes doesn’t appear to do any good either.
One particular couple handled the parenting of their four-year-old son without incident but ran into trouble when their second son turned two and started throwing repeated tantrums. The mother tried calmly talking with the child, and when that didn’t help resorted to a firm smack. Eventually she found herself hitting her child a number of times and having angry shouting matches with both children as the household fell apart.
What was she to do? Was she disciplining her children too much, or not enough? The answer is neither of these alternatives.
Discipline isn’t about whether you smack or not. It is about helping children learn that there are consistent consequences for their actions that will be enforced within a predictable, loving environment.
Children do best when they know the limits and ground rules of their family environment, and when these limits are fair and open and, as they get older, negotiable. The way you discipline your children will vary with the age and personality of that child. For instance you can’t negotiate bedtime with a three-year-old, you can with a 14-year-old.
Discipline for disobedience should always teach two things. Firstly, that ‘no’ means to stop the behaviour and secondly, what appropriate behaviour should be seen instead.
The trap that many parents fall into is to unwittingly feed negative behaviour by nagging and criticising, often inconsistently, and by failing to praise and encourage children when they behave well.
A positive parenting course eventually helped this couple by allowing them to see what things would work for their family, and what needed to be done differently. By changing the parents’ behaviour and through learning more about how to look at their own actions, their two-year-old’s behaviour also changed. The household calmed down, and everyone was much happier. It isn’t magic that brings about these results, just effort, and an understanding that we all need a little help sometimes.
By Professor Matt Sanders, founder of the Triple P-Positive Parenting Programme
For more information on the different levels of Triple-P and for a calendar of programmes available in your area go to www.triplep-staypositive.net or telephone the Longford Westmeath Parenting Partnership office on (090 ) 6434070. The website also carries the first three editions of the Tippaper and more than 80 podcasts on common parenting concerns.