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The Myth of Discipline


This blog post has been contributed by Vinitha Ramchandani. A versatile media person, with hands-on work experience in print, electronic and digital media, Vinitha currently works as a senior editor with Popular Prakashan Pvt, Ltd, a well-known publishing firm. Besides her regular day-job, she writes children’s fiction, holds reading sessions and conducts creative writing workshops for teachers and children.

I’ve come back home today after a long day of work and I want to sit down and cry. I’m confronted with yet another report from the maid and my mother-in-law of a boy, my son, who has difficulty in keeping his temper. My son is 5 years old. It’s an age old issue: discipline.

Today’s generation of parents may have been brought up under the parenting adage of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’; yet or perhaps because of it, they wrangle with the task of sparing the rod, what kind of rod, the invisible rod … and still do not know how the child got spoilt. Do children require a set of rules to stick to?  Is there a method a child learns to understand, so that he/she knows what lines not to cross, where to stop and when? How does one teach self-control to a tantrum-throwing child? Why doesn’t the form of discipline one uses on a eight year old work with the three-year old too? And what is discipline, indeed? Is it tolerating a tantrum or is it knowing how many tantrums to sooth away? I calm myself and sit to have a chat with my five-year-old. On a bad day, I’m yelling the roof down. Clinial psychologist Dr Shwetambara Sabharwal says, “Parents have been given a task by nature. We not only to give birth to another human being, but also nurture that being with love. While we know how to feed and help a child flourish, the task of teaching and guiding a child into becoming a confident, thinking individual, is something that does not come instinctively to us.” Apparently yelling is bad; my attempt to talk to my son is good. There are four zones that you should look out for in kids’ behaviour:

1. Safe zone- when children feel wanted, secure, loved, their needs are met, they function in a safe zone and such children are happy, well adjusted and well behaved.

2. Learning zone- when children experience safe zone, they are able to learn, explore, be creative, make decisions, choose, focus and this is the learning zone, they will be smarter and learn more.

3. Anxiety zone- children who do not feel safe, secure, wanted and reassured are in the anxiety zone. Anxiety leads to irritation, frustration and anger. It is in this zone that they will start sending out signs and signals that tell you they are about to ‘let all hell loose’!

4. Stress zone – when you are unable to read those signs and give them the required reassurance, help, guidance, they move into the stress zone, where all hell breaks loose. It takes a lot of effort, learning, unlearning, guidance, love and time to bring a child from the stress zone to the safe zone. So ideally keep them in the safe and learning zone and never reach the anxiety zone.

There are a great number of techniques that can be used effectively to teach children good behaviour:

1) Be a role model. Basically, if you are a screamer, then the chances of your child trying to negotiate his demands through screaming are relatively higher. Children learn purely by imitation. “The problem is adults follow a strict policy with kids that says, ‘Do as we say, not as we do’, and we forget that kids learn by imitation!” says Swati Popat Vats, director of Podar Jumbo Kids Plus. “So you can see mothers and teachers shouting at their kids and asking them to ‘be quiet’!”

2) There is no such thing as the best way to discipline a child (Sigh). Deviant behaviour varies and with it, the method to deal with it. Mostly, use positive reinforcement to communicate your message to your child. I find that pulling up my son over and over again only makes him an angry person. A smiley chart—wherein he gets a smiley every time he does it ‘right’ (the way mom instructed him)—works like magic. Try it.

3) Ask your child for help. Children can be great solution finders if we let them try. They are not self conscious and not socially bothered. Give them a chance to think and they will help with the easiest and most effective solutions! Try: “What do you think we should do with the food you  wasted?” 4) Sometimes—actually most of the time—a repetitive bad behaviour is really a child trying to say something. According to Vats, patience is another myth of parenting. “There should be no such thing as patience when it comes to kids,” she says. “Patience implies that you are ‘bearing with’ someone. Instead of basing your discipline on patience base it on understanding, because in patience you will control the child instead of guiding the child. So stop telling yourself, ‘I need to be patient with my child’. Instead ask yourself if you have understood what the child is actually trying to tell you with the behaviour.”

5) Child therapists confirm that children in the first 6 years lack impulse-control. Impulse control comes with the development of the pre frontal cortex, so the more the pre frontal cortex develops, the better will be logic, reasoning, attention, focus in children. Play games to develop impulse control. Simple games like Simon Says and Red Light Green Light, all develop impulse control. In Simon Says, for instance, the child has to concentrate and wait for the word ‘Simon’ to do the action, so he controls his impulse to do the action, until he hears the word.

6) Parenting ought to be about leadership and not about bossing around. What do we dream for our children? Positive self-esteem, secure and self confident outlook, independence, self-control and wise decision-making. How we discipline them when they are at their most vulnerable has a tremendous impact on their personality, coping skills and our dreams for them.

7) So respect children and watch for the impending signs of tantrums and misbehaviour. Help them to develop self control, and developing self control can be done if you understand that children focus on one thing at a time and that they cannot figure out the consequences of their actions on others in a logical way. And, most important, know when to close the discussion. When negotiations are not going anywhere, we have to communicate who’s the parent! Say, “I won’t change my mind about this.”

We should remember that children do not misbehave, we misinterpret their behaviour.

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2 thoughts on “The Myth of Discipline

  1. Sai

    Hey Vinitha, this is a good one!!! While I was reading this, Ayush, my 4 year old is lying on his tummy on the bed and bawling because I asked him to get off the iPad after his 20 mins quota of the day.

    What worked? I went close and firmly told him, “When you finish crying, let me know, we can talk!” 2 mins later, he came with wet cheeks and welled up eyes… “I am done crying!”….. I say, “Why are you unhappy?”….. He thinks for a good half minute, and he smiles and says, “I forgot!!!”

    Hahah/….. It is really that simple…..

    Reply

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