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Using Discipline with Children

I wanted to give some insight into discipline because I know from experience that we don’t all come armed with great childhood experiences to pass on to our own children, we don’t all have extended families to support us and even if we have all these things it is always good to take a step back and reflect on how we are as parents because we make such a huge difference to our children’s lives and futures.

There are many different ways of looking at the word discipline, the origins of this word offer insight into its current meanings: The Old French ‘descepline’ implied punishment and suffering, The Latin word ‘disciplina’ - instruction and training, and this originated from the word ‘discere’ - to learn.

I prefer positive non-punitive approaches to discipline because, you (the caregiver), are in essence responsible for teaching your child how you want them to behave. When children learn, they are building new connections in their brains and children learn best through the examples they see around them. Children thrive in a safe, secure environment, in relationships where they feel nurtured and valued, experiencing positive discipline enables children to learn self-discipline, it teaches them healthy boundaries.

Perhaps your parents or grandparents had different approaches to discipline, at the time they may have had good intentions and merely followed what were the current cultural values in society or just continued using methods passed down through the generations in their family culture. You may or may not have decided to use different methods in bringing up your own children, you may find your partner may have been brought up in a different culture and you both have differing views on disciplining your children.

“What lingers from the parent's individual past, unresolved or incomplete, often becomes part of her or his irrational parenting” – Virginia Satir

Discipline styles

Let's look at four styles of parenting or applying discipline;

Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive and Uninvolved/Neglectful).

Which one are you?

Authoritarian parents often use punitive methods of discipline, rather than teaching a child how to be, they believe children should follow rules without exception. Authoritarian parents notoriously say, "Because I said so," when a child questions things, they are not interested in negotiating and their focus is on obedience, they often shame their children. These parents often don't allow children to problem-solve or have independent thought, instead, they make rules and enforce punishment with no discussion. Children who grow up with strict authoritarian parents tend to follow rules much of the time through fear of punishment although, their obedience comes at a price; these children face a higher risk losing (or not having) a sense of self because their opinions aren't valued, they may become submissive (people pleasers), they may also become angry and aggressive because they haven’t been heard or understood. Being authoritarian parents sometimes means their children become good liars in an effort to avoid punishment.

Authoritative parents tend to have healthy boundaries and give natural consequences rather than punishment, they take their child's opinions into consideration, they tend to validate their children's feelings, while also making it clear that the adults are ultimately in charge. Authoritative parents invest time and energy into preventing problems before they start, they also use positive discipline strategies to reinforce good behaviour. Researchers have found children who have authoritative parents are most likely to become responsible adults who feel comfortable expressing their opinions. Children raised with this kind of positive discipline tend to be happier and more successful, they are also more likely to be securely attached, independent and engage in healthy relationships.

Permissive parents usually offer more of a friend role than a parent role, although they encourage their children to talk to them about their problems they also burden them with adult issues which can cause unnecessary worry. They often leave their children to make their own choices and have little or no discipline in place. Children who grow up with permissive parents are more likely to struggle academically as they get little guidance and may struggle in school with authority and rules. They often have low self-esteem and they are at a higher risk of health problems, like poor dental hygiene, obesity, diabetes and anxiety because permissive parents may not monitor eating or lifestyle choices. These children may display less self-control, egocentric tendencies and struggle in relationships and social interactions. They may be more likely to be insecurely attached.

Uninvolved/Neglectful parents may lack knowledge about child development, they may have had a difficult childhood themselves and sometimes, they are merely overwhelmed with other problems like work, paying bills, poor mental/physical health, or domestic abuse and/or simply not having the skills to manage a household. Uninvolved parents are often neglectful because they are unaware of or unable to cater to their children’s needs therefore they lack interest in their lives. Children with uninvolved/neglectful parents are likely to struggle with self-esteem issues, they are more impulsive, they tend to perform badly in school, they struggle with emotional regulation, are more socially vulnerable, susceptible to criminal activities and addictive behaviours and they often appear unhappy and at higher risk of poor mental health.

It appears that the Authoritative approach to discipline is best for well-balanced children.

Planning ahead

Talking with your partner to make a plan for how you want to discipline your child is essential to avoid confusion and inconsistencies, children thrive in environments where there are firm but fair boundaries, when parenting is consistent, this makes them feel safe. You are unlikely to agree on everything although having an open discussion and meeting in the middle is a great start.

Without a plan, parents often (without thinking) repeat negative discipline methods they experienced as children. Ask yourself if there is anything about the discipline that you experienced as a child that you want to be different for your child and how you could implement it, you may be that you will benefit from therapy to explore and heal from any adverse childhood experiences before you can be fully successful in making changes.

For those parents that don’t have a partner or extended family support, things may be more difficult, especially if like me, you didn’t have a childhood with ideal examples of parenting. I remember as a young parent with my first child, I had an uninvolved partner and no family support. I had no clue about child development, discipline or even relationships and I didn’t know who to ask. I do still feel sad and ashamed (although I have apologised and explained to my first born) that I went between being an authoritarian parent and an uninvolved parent, I repeated a lot of my childhood history although, one thing I made sure of (and can be proud of) I never criticised my daughters appearance because I did realise the huge impact that had on me.

Whether you are a lone parent or with a partner, think about positive ways to model good behaviour for your child (that includes how you and people around you interact, remember children learn by example and they are always watching.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”― Maya Angelou

Time Out vs Time In

There are always different methods of moderating children’s behaviour being introduced, time-out has become an alternative to the naughty step, shouting and smacking which may indeed be positive progression although it is not always ideal.

The impact of time-outs depends firstly, on how they are implemented, if parents scream and shout and send their children away to punish them that is a very different experience than if parents are respectfully and calmly asking their child to take some time to calm themselves down and take a break before attending to their needs.

We have to be aware some children can regulate by themselves (and may like to) while other children need someone else to co-regulate with them, this depends on how secure they feel in their own company and if they have already learned methods to calm themselves down (self-regulate).

Asking a child to think (alone) about what has just happened can be unhelpful because they often act in the moment on their emotions so little ‘thought’ goes into what they are doing; they will need someone to explore with them, help them make sense of things so they gain understanding, they are unlikely to do that alone. Being sent away may induce feelings of rejection and being unsupported.

“We all know that rejection hurts, but neuroscience has concluded that it does in fact, literally, hurt. While the brain does not process emotional pain and physical pain identically, the reaction and cascading events are very similar”

25 Dec 2015 Rejection And Physical Pain Are The Same To Your Brain - Forbes

Time-out when a child is distressed is confusing and upsetting for them also, it induces further distress.

When someone it distressed they cannot think straight, they go into survival mode and their brains are hijacked by their emotions. They need time-in with someone to help them regulate.

Think of a time you’ve been upset by something, how it goes round and round in your mind (often getting bigger and bigger) until you get it out your system through talking to someone or it is resolved, now imagine, you are a young person sent to your room alone to think about something, nobody to talk to, no power to resolve it…how helpful do you think that would be?

Unless behaviour is deliberate and manipulative (without distress) Time In is always preferable, the child learns to regulate their emotions while supported. Sometimes children just need some space to calm down with someone by their side. Yes, it may seem hard work and inconvenient in today’s hectic lifestyles, after all, parents are having to balance so much already. The sooner you implement good discipline and invest time in supporting your child the better your relationship will be and the less disruption your family will face further down the line.

Please see the blogs on my website for ideas on how to interact and build a healthy relationship with your child

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