Parents face many challenges and can be pushed to their limits – especially when their children behave badly. We hope that our children will do as they are told, and behave well, but when they don’t, many parents wonder how best to discipline their child. This guide will give you some ideas of the best ways of disciplining your child and (hopefully!) avoiding bad behaviour.
Discipline means giving your child rules to encourage positive behaviour and self-control. It also means explaining and showing them the consequences if they don’t follow these rules.
Sometimes people think that discipline means punishment – but this is not always the case. Discipline includes telling children how you want them to behave, offering incentives, explaining how their bad behaviour affects others, and what will happen if they don’t comply.
Discipline is very much an individual choice. You will have to find what works best in your situation. Everyone is different.
Set rules and boundaries for your children. These should explain how you expect them to behave.
Print out some ‘House Rules'. Be clear about the consequences if rules are broken (a lecture, no privileges or extra chores for example).
Make your rules part of family life and get relatives to maintain discipline too. Granny must know exactly what to do if the children misbehave.
Ensure that your child knows what behaviour is unacceptable.
On the positive side, reinforce good behaviour. Praise your child when they have done well. All stick and no carrot can be less effective.
Deciding what is good and what is bad behaviour is subjective. Some parents will accept behaviour that others would not tolerate. Make sure your child knows where you stand.
See if you can find any reasons which explain bad behaviour. For example, is your child bored or hungry, or maybe jealous of a sibling? Most children will misbehave at times, but occasionally there are serious triggers, like a change in family circumstances or the loss of someone close.
Misbehaviour may be a way of gaining your attention or rebelling against your control. Your child might be going through bullying or depression. They might also have anger issues.
Keep a diary of incidents and if you are worried, talk to your school or doctor.
Children seem to know exactly what to say or do to provoke a reaction and it can be a challenge to remain composed.
Make sure you are always fair and only deliver appropriate punishments. Corporal punishment (hitting a child is) outlawed by UNESCO and other bodies.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe states that corporal punishment is a breach of children's "fundamental right to human dignity and physical integrity", and violates children's "equally fundamental right to the same legal protection as adults".
Hitting a child teaches them that violence is acceptable and it will make them fearful of you. Research suggests that smacking children causes mental health issues. A 2016 analysis of five decades of research found that spanking led to anti-social behaviour, aggression, and mental health problems.
Always refrain. Instead, walk away to defuse a potentially heated situation.
This can mean taking away a beloved toy or preventing your child doing something they like (watching TV for example) or going somewhere they want to (like a friend’s house). Take something away only for a short period of time, no longer than a few hours, or a day, at most.
This can be a useful tactic if used in the correct manner. It works especially well as a warning – before the bad behaviour occurs. Many parents wrongly employ it as punishment in the first instance of bad behaviour and don’t clearly explain to their child why a privilege has been taken away.
The privilege removed should have a connection to their behaviour. For example, if they have mistreated a toy, take the toy away for a short time. If they are incessantly shouting at a party, take them away until they stop.
Older children will feel that taking away their mobile phone, video game or computer access is the ultimate punishment. Work out what has most impact on your child. Persist and don’t back down, no matter how much they cry or plead.
Praise your child when they do something positive, especially without you telling them to.
A rewards chart is a great idea. Add a sticker whenever they behave well. When they’ve reached a certain number, they could receive a treat – or just feel the satisfaction of filling a row or chart.
If one child sees another benefiting from good behaviour they will want to do the same.
You can’t control your child through fear without damaging your child and your relationship. So use positive discipline.
Children are constantly learning – self-control and self-discipline are very valuable lessons.