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Discipline from within By Ruth Liew

Allow children room to grow and develop on their own.

TWO five-year-olds were chatting away, oblivious to their teacher’s read-aloud for the class. Everyone else was all ears and eyes on the teacher.

Despite repeated reminders, the two boys persisted with their chatting. When it got too loud, their teacher asked them to move aside from the group. One of them felt uneasy while the other happily complied. Though they obeyed, both children responded differently.

Children have their reasons for their behaviour. They do not intentionally do things to irritate or anger the adults. They need to understand how things are done and what they can do to take control. They behave better when they have the right skills to cope with challenges.

At home, parents often find their children doing or saying things they should not. How does one differentiate between defiance and immaturity? Children like to explore and experiment. They will make mistakes. Learning from these mistakes, with the adults’ guidance, makes them more mature.

At the busy shopping mall, your four-year-old breaks free from your grip and runs to the nearest toy shop. When you try to make him leave the shop, he yells “No!” You try to reason with him; the more you talk, the more he struggles to break free from your control.

The question is: Do you let him continue this ruckus or allow him to remain in the toy shop?
Get your child to calm down before you decide on the next step. Choose to do what is right by your child rather than saving yourself from further embarrassment.Your child needs to learn how to behave in a shopping mall. Talk to him when he is able to listen. Offer him a solution that is reasonable for both parent and child. Instead of “You can’t go to the toy shop now,” try “We will only spend 15 minutes here and then we have to do our grocery shopping.” Often, parents tend to tell their kids what they cannot do rather than what they can do. Let your child know that he can request to visit the toy shop after grocery shopping is done. Give him leeway to spend some time at his favourite corner of the shop. Involve your child in planning an outing that both of you can enjoy.

Many parents tend to use “Don’t” in their instructions. They forget that children focus more on the words that are active rather than passive. They hear what they can do rather than what they cannot do. When you are not in conflict with your child, try to accentuate the positive. Say to your child “You can help to tidy the room by putting away the toys” or “Be gentle with your baby sister. She likes it when you handle her gently.” Children listen to our words and follow our actions instinctively. They can actually act in a prompt and courteous manner when they are expected to do so.

However, when parents adopt an authoritarian style by resorting to threats, force, bribes and withdrawal of privileges, children may react differently. In this way, children obey passively. Discipline here is imposed from without rather than within. There is very little room for children to learn self-discipline.

Instead of shouting several times at your child to stop his behaviour, you can say to him: “You need to stop kicking the table.” Say it firmly. Your child will sense the seriousness in your voice. Choose to manage your child’s behaviour with respect and consistency. Parents must only give instructions they expect the children to obey. On their part parents must lead by example. How you behave influences your child’s behaviour. If you are sitting quietly and calmly, chances are your child may do likewise.

Allow children room to grow and develop on their own without you hovering over them.When it comes to disciplining your child, spend time working out the best solutions for long-range goals rather than opting for short cuts to curbing misbehaviour.



Ruth Liew is a child developmentalist, Montessori trainer and examiner. A mother of two teenage daughters, she is committed to supporting children’s rights.

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