The Best Way to Discipline Kids
FROM ANGER MANAGEMENT FOR PARENTS TO POSITIVE MOTIVATION, THE PARENTING BOOK THAT TOOK THE WORLD BY STORM – LIBERATED PARENTS AND LIBERATED KIDS: YOUR GUIDE TO A HAPPIER FAMILY – BY ELAINE MAZLISH AND ADELE FABER TAKE A LOOK AT THIS AND MORE. HEALTH SPEAKS TO AN EXPERT WHO INVESTIGATES THE MODEL OF DISCIPLINE DISCUSSED AND ADDS HER OWN INSIGHT.
Anna and her husband are parents of three teenage children and Anna says that in particular, her 16-year-old daughter Juliana has become not only rude, but almost impossible to deal with overall. She narrates, “I knew teenagers could be rude but Juliana’s is becoming unacceptable. She talks back, never listens and is even rude to her siblings. I have tried different tactics from grounding her to taking away her laptop to yelling but she just doesn’t budge. And now our family life is suffering with her insolence…What do we do?”
Most parents can relate completely to Anna and her husband as finding a disciplining approach that actually works is seemingly impossible. Specifically in the book–Liberated Parents, Liberated Children, the authors shared their experiences over five years in the parent workshops of the late Dr. Haim Ginott. Readers who were inspired wrote to the authors and appealed for a “how to” book. While pondering the idea they carried on with their busy lecturing and workshop programs and used material from these workshops to produce this book which clearly and simply shows how. Their new book gives adults the theory, the skills and a practical guide on how to implement what they have learned, at their own pace. The book contains countless examples of dialogues which enable parents to adapt this ‘new language to suit their own style. Underlying their method of communication includes ways to live with each other so that we can feel good about ourselves and help people we love feel good about themselves. Also importantly, to find a way to be respectful of our children’s needs and to be just as respectful of our own needs and in turn, find a way that makes it possible for our children to be caring and responsible.
Helping children deal with their feelings – in this chapter the language of empathy is described as not part of our ‘mother tongue.’ Fluency in this language requires learning and practice. From insults to personal attacks, the book directly states that words can cut like knives. Some can even leave permanent scars. The search to find new and more human ways to express the old and powerful emotion of anger is the work of a lifetime. Devika Singh, a clinical psychologist at the Dubai Herbal and Treatment Center reinforces that the key here is to aim to help a child recognize their true potential rather than magnify the impact of their behaviour. “This definitely requires utmost self – regulation and often requires slowing down your thoughts so that you can access the right words to communicate what happened, why it is upsetting and what can be done and more importantly, alternative ways of dealing with such a situation in the future,” she says.
As parents, we often feel guilty, for saying no, for denying a certain privilege and for some, even punishing a child when he or she has done wrong. However, according to the authors, when a child is given the power to activate our guilt, it’s like handing him an atomic bomb. Singh points out that many parents experience guilt when they assess their role as a caregiver. “In fact, guilt can be purposeful in trying to identify parental expectations and the expectations parents have of their children,” she says. “However, when the underlying triggers aren’t explored and understood, it can lead to resentment towards a child.” And this, she adds, is unhealthy and can affect the parent-child dynamic.
The book also examines issues of anger and stresses that “trying to be patient when you’re angry is like applying the brake with one foot while the other foot presses the gas pedal. You wouldn’t abuse your automobile that way. Be at least as good to yourself as you are to your car.” Anger, explains Singh, is a manifestation of an unmet expectation which then causes frustration. “This must be expressed, and most definitely in a calm manner,” she says as you are, after all, modelling communication to your child with every interaction. She advises that finding the right words and articulating your emotions is critical to this expression and can communicate anger, hurt and frustration more effectively than a raised voice which would only elicit fear and defensiveness in a child.
Alternatives to punishment are dealt with in the book and some of their suggestions include: state your expectations, show the child how to make amends, give a choice, take action and allow the child to experience the consequences of his misbehaviour. For many parents, saying no can mean obstructing our child’s happiness. However according to the authors of the book, by focusing only upon a child’s happiness, we do him no favour and that when we take action to stop a child’s unacceptable behaviour, we are doing him a service as we are actually showing him how to be the kind of adult who can stand up for what he believes in. Further elaborating, Singh says that saying ‘no’ encourages a child to consider alternatives and to learn to self – soothe when an expectation or demand isn’t being met. “This is a reality you want your child to be prepared for,” she says and in fact, it can be helpful to say ‘no’ and empathize with your child at the same time. “Letting a child know you understand why they are upset is important for maintaining an emotional bond,” she explains and when a child reacts strongly to your decision you may need to enforce a cooling off period before you can address the issue again.
The chapter on praise examines what parents can do to enhance a child’s self esteem. Praise they say is a ‘tricky business and brings about unexpected reactions. The dangers of praise are explained, and the differences between ‘descriptive praise’ and ‘evaluative praise’. According to Singh, positive reinforcement is food for the soul. “This is a basic human need for a child or an adult,” she says and this means being vigilant for opportunities to acknowledge the expected behaviour or even an attempt to meet an expectation. At the same time, when you see unwanted behaviour, she strongly suggests that it is important to address it when you are alone with your child when possible. “It is important to relate it back to the expectation you have and to a previous agreement if there is one,” she says and if there is a consequence associated with the unwanted behaviour it must be enforced consistently. “Consistency fosters learning, if you can’t maintain this it is unrealistic to expect change,” she says. Yet how can parents encourage or praise their kids without going overboard? It is always useful to explore both successes and so called failures, points out Singh. “We tend to celebrate successes without asking what contributed to the success,” she says and in fact, understanding what went well is just as important as asking what went wrong. “When you engage in both processes you will be able to discuss problems with some ease because your child won’t feel scrutinized for the negatives,” she says as praise without an understanding of the basis for success can lead to ‘empty self-esteem’ because the specific skills and strengths haven’t been acknowledged or identified. “Without this, the successes can’t be re-experienced which can lead to confusion and disappointment for a child,” she says.
ACCORDING TO SINGH, THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF DISCIPLINE ARE:
- STATE YOUR EXPECTATIONS CLEARLY AND FREQUENTLY
- REMEMBER THE CONSISTENCY OF REWARDS AND CONSEQUENCES IS CRITICAL
- MODEL THE VALUES YOU WISH YOU INCULCATE IN YOUR CHILD