Here’s a quote from Carl Zuckmayer that might be worth passing on to your children. It carries a lot of truth:
One half of life is luck; the other half is discipline – and that’s the important half, for without discipline, you will not know what to do with your luck.
Sometimes people misunderstand the difference between discipline and punishment, believing them to have the same meaning. Not so. Discipline refers to the training adults give to youngsters to bring about self-control. Consistent, gentle discipline causes life-long changes in the mind and character of children. Punishment is meant to cause pain or discomfort for breaking rules. Typically children are verbally scolded, sent into time out, relieved of toys or special privileges (e.g. TV time) or even given physical hidings or smacks.
Punishment can, of course, form part of disciplining but it should never be the only way that parents use to correct wrongdoing.
Here are some ways of disciplining children
- Ignore unacceptable behaviour.This can be useful and effective for many problem behaviours such as sulking, whining, interrupting, begging for treats, or insulting authority figures (parents/teachers). There are situations where you cannot ignore the child, such as when they are physically hurt. Don’t try to ignore behaviour if you are truly angry inside because children will pick up on your fury and know their behaviour has had the desired result. When you ignore, you should try to avoid paying attention to behaviours that you have clearly explained as being unacceptable.
- Setting boundaries. Children should have set limits that are strictly enforced with patience and firmness.
- Give simple orders. Keep your instructions simple, clear and brief. Children are confused if too much detail is given.Also try to give instructions one at a time rather than a whole list of them. When you speak to your children, look at them and don’t call out orders from a distance. If you have any doubt as to whether a child has understood your instructions, ask them to repeat them to you.
- Spend time with your children.Emotional development depends on the love and attention of parents. This means interacting with your children on their level. Reading the newspaper or watching TV doesn’t count as ‘quality time.’
- Give choices within limits. Children want and need to feel some control.Having some positive control helps them be independent and confident. Rather than always giving orders, set limits instead. Parents can also involve children in determining the disciplinary process and setting consequences (punishments). This helps development of independence and cooperation.
- Help children understand consequences, which are the results of choices the children make.There are two kinds of consequences: natural and logical. Natural consequences just happen. For example, if children do not eat, they get hungry. Logical consequences is created by parents, so a child who purposely hits his sister with his new toy will have to give it up.
- Be consistent.Always treat the same behaviour the same way, no matter the place or time. The more consistent you are, the more effective disciplining will be. Parents need especially to stay consistent in public, which is usually the most difficult and unpleasant. Don’t worry about what others are thinking but simply persist in maintaining the limits that are important to you. For example, if a child misbehaves in a restaurant, the child should be taken outside for a while. She can return after a while but don’t keep food for her. Although unpleasant, missing her food treat helps to teach her the limits.
- Notice good behaviour.Be sure to catch your child being good and obeying limits. Let them know you approve by positive words and actions.
The source of this information was based on the book ‘Help your child to cope’ by Dr Cai Yiming & Dr Daniel Fung.
Our children are young, so we expect them to be irresponsible, to need our advice and supervision. We don’t expect them to be able to independently plan to meet their goals, do their homework, safely cross the road or to take on complex tasks while still very young. Why not? What is it about childhood that prevents them from these responsible behaviours?
It’s all about brain development, of course. Tasks that require wise decision making, organising, planning, managing time, thinking before you act and avoiding impulsivity are part of the functions of the front part of the brain – called the prefrontal cortex. This happens to be the very last part of the brain to develop completely – at around age 25 years. This is why adolescence can be a difficult and dangerous age. Young people have so much knowledge, skills and ability yet don’t have the brain development needed to always supervise their own actions in a wise, responsible way. We call the functions performed by this part of the brain Executive Functions. The prefrontal cortex is literally the boss of the brain.
Most children gradually develop this brain area but some may be slower in some areas than others. They may struggle with completing tasks, remembering what homework has been set, being able to stay on task, recalling important detail, and controlling strong emotions. All of us tend to develop unevenly – with some aspects streaking ahead but others lagging behind. This is normal and not necessarily a sign of a serious problem. It is also normal for such a child to need support while waiting for a very natural progression of brain development.
There are ways to help. Leaving such children alone may prevent them from reaching their potential and labelling slower development negatively may impair the very development they need. Supporting them in positive ways can help them over obstacles.
A useful website to visit for clear explanation of executive functions, help that works and ways that could worsen the situation is written by Seth Perler. The website (Google Seth Perler.com) is available and contains a wealth of information about Executive Functioning and helping to coach children through challenges. You might find the information valuable.
When browsing through my library recently, I opened one of the older books on the shelf. Very soon, I was reading with delight some words of wisdom that are as relevant today as they were back in the middle of the last century! I’m talking about the book published by the Gesell Institute, titled Child Behaviour and written by Frances Ilg and Louise Ames, with numerous reprints, in the 19550’s (yes, no typo – it really was written so long ago).
The section I enjoyed dealt with the still common problem experienced by many children today who find it difficult to make shifts. This means that they cannot move easily from one thing to another, or from one behaviour, activity or situation to another. Without help, they simply become stuck.
We all have unique personalities and they may present us with certain problems. Indeed, most people have aspects of personality that they find problematic. A struggle to adapt easily to change is one of these. It isn’t because the child is bad, naughty or difficult. It isn’t a ‘fault’ in the child but simply an aspect of personality. She may be perfectly normal in all respects except for her inability to handle change.
Such children may resist new foods and prefer eating the same thing for every meal. They may find it hard to go to sleep at night, then (after sleeping well) find it difficult to shift back to wakefulness. When playing, they may be able to entertain themselves well for hours but resist shifting from one form of play to another. For example, he may continue to play with lego because he will find it too hard to shift to another toy. Typically, parents of such children find it hard to encourage them to leave their play to come to supper, visit a relative, go shopping, or anything else.
In relationships with others, this personality trait may cause such children to be fine with one person at a time, but find it hard to shift from one person to another. For example, from mother to nursery school teacher. They will find it hard to leave a parent when it is time for school – and then find it hard to leave school to go home with the parent.
How do we help such children? Certainly we can’t scold or punish them when they resist change. They truly need help from their parents whenever there is a transition to be made. Sometimes it helps to provide the changes which she needs and can’t manage herself. An example would be to have the child go find her mother in the playground rather than being met in the classroom, or having a new pair of pyjamas to put on in order to break the bedtime ritual that has become such a struggle.
Of course, some children show reluctance to change in very particular situations and something else may be found to underlie their behaviour. There are many possible reasons for what can be seen as Separation Anxiety, or fear of change due to a traumatic event. What is discussed here is different – we’re describing children who are born with this aspect of personality.
If a child has a personality that resists change in general then it is likely that she will keep that personality trait throughout her life. Accept that there is nothing you have done to cause this, and nothing you can do to change it. You can help her understand herself and provide the kind of situation that makes her feel most comfortable and able to cope with change. But don’t try to change her or make her feel guilty. Individuality is inborn.
Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) is forever searching for ways of helping children cope better with problems associated with development, neurodevelopment and learning. Visit our website www.ilt.co.za to learn more about our approach and find practitioners near you to offer help. We also offer courses to parents, teachers and other helping professionals to better understand the reasons underlying children’s learning difficulties and puzzling behaviours. The courses are accredited with SACE, ETDP-SETA and HPCSA.
You are welcome to write to us at email@example.com.
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