Current thinking suggests that spanking and shouting are not acceptable forms of discipline but show me a parent who has done neither and I’ll show you one who has either given birth to a saint or is a pathological liar.
We’ve all done it and we all feel terrible about it afterwards but that isn’t the reason it’s wrong. Apart from the threat of physical damage, there are psychological issues too. Plus, of course, there’s the fact that children who are hit by their parents tend to grow up believing that violence is an acceptable solution and one day, they’ll be strong enough to hit you back. Unfortunately, this still leaves us with the need to instill discipline in our children.
Is There a Place for this Behaviour?
There’s no consensus on this but in my opinion, below a certain age, only simple responses are effective. I feel that a toddler is better off receiving a slap on the wrist or a stern voice than pain from the electrical outlet they’re prodding with a fork. Sure, you can take the fork from your toddler and cover the outlets in your house but what about when you visit others? The sooner your child learns to avoid danger, the better.
Punish for Danger, not for Behaviour
It’s a small step from punishing a child for running off toward a dangerous street to punishing them for disobedience. As the parent, you’ll have to determine which are “danger” issues and act accordingly. For example, I used to punish my toddlers for throwing things at people but not for general throwing.
You should avoid shouting and spanking punishments for behavioural issues. Sometimes, such as when your child destroys treasured heirlooms, you just have to let it out for your own sake. If that’s the case, try to do it away from your child.
Some behaviour which seems naughty isn’t actually naughty at all. The sly look that your child gives you when dirtying their nappy isn’t necessarily disobedience and to punish for this can add considerable delays to toilet training.
We all make mistakes as new parents but there’s no sense in agonizing over them. Move on and try harder next time. If you find yourself losing your temper with the kids, make sure that you take time-out for yourself. Put them into care and if it will help, talk to a counselor. If you think that you’re in a dangerous state around your children, it’s better to have someone collect them for a while – even if you contact a helpline and ask for assistance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help because we all need it from time to time.
You Still Need to be Strict
Unfortunately, you can’t go down the path of new age parenting either. I know people who discipline in cutesy baby voices or cuddle during a reprimand. These niceties do nothing for discipline. Instead they give the child power over you. The child feels rewarded with attention and will repeat the behaviour. Far from stopping an activity, you’re actually encouraging it.
Strict parenting is a main feature of shows like Supernanny, but unfortunately the “naughty corner” technique won’t necessarily work with a child who has autism – at least, not until they’re much older. As a general rule though, all forms of smacking should be gone by about six years of age in a child on the spectrum. In children with fewer difficulties, smacking should stop much earlier. To extend past this age is to run the risk of instilling violent behaviours into your children.
It’s tempting to switch from smacking to shouting and indeed many parents, myself included, do this unintentionally. Shouting isn’t a great method either but it’s a little less harmful than smacking except when used too often. You’ll find however that you can get much better results if you use it sparingly. The other thing to avoid is “put-downs”. Do not tell your child that they are “stupid”, that “they won’t amount to anything” or that “they won’t live past 30 if they keep eating sugar”. Putdowns stay with your child well and truly into adulthood.
How do I Discipline?
- Always keep in mind that discipline doesn’t mean punish, it means teach. Whenever you’re in “discipline” mode, try to take a moment to decide what the object of the lesson is. Too often, you’ll find that it’s all about you. It’s your way of taking revenge on the child who knocked over your vase or who dropped rubbish on the floor for you to clean up. Too often we secretly want to see our kids cry because of what they’ve done to us. If that’s the motivation, then stop – don’t use discipline as punishment.
- Sometimes you’re too emotional to discipline. If that’s the case, assign a task for later; for example, you can say; “Young man, you will be picking up every piece of that paper that you have just shredded”. At that point, if you need to take some time out to regain control, then do so. You’ve made the requirements clear.When you’re calm, you can return and start your child on their task. Don’t forget that some special needs children won’t be capable of cleaning up their messes without assistance. You may have to help by pointing at each bit of rubbish or get in and actually help.
- You’ll find that as your children get older, things like time out corners and food or monetary rewards will become more effective. Don’t be afraid to give these things a try even if you know they haven’t worked in the past.
Most of all though, avoid correcting your child for every single thing. Remember the mantra; Don’t sweat the small stuff. Some things, they just need to learn on their own.