This post was originally published in Parentous.
In Indian context, all of us must have heard this saying ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’ which denotes that hitting children in the garb of disciplining them has to be an integral part of parenting. But is it mandatory to equalize discipline with physical punishment to make it more effective? I would like to disagree here.
First of all, I fail to understand how anyone can live with the feeling of inflicting pain on anyone else, esp. on small kids. That day, while shopping I came across a couple with their kid of 5-6 years. The kid was absolutely a brat who was creating ruckus in that store. The father was behaving like a stranger while the kid was throwing tantrums to his mother.
The hassled mom slapped the child and twisted his nose hard while asking him to behave properly. The kid screamed in pain and a loud meltdown happened making the matter worse. I almost felt like snatching the kid from her grip. I understand that she might be beleaguered enough but that does not authorize her to behave so violently with her own child.
Instilling discipline in any child’s life & behavior is surely an art. The most imperative factor is being consistent with the discipline regime and your conduct towards it. Hitting a kid to make him/her understand anything might drill the fact in his mind that violence is the only way to get your voice across the other person.
Another important aspect is treating the child as an individual instead of someone of lower level in the authority tree. Respect their feelings and mood swings. Applying this concept is quite hard with toddlers as you have to exhibit lot of patience to understand their mind & vocabulary. But once they can understand that you are there to listen to them patiently, they also tend to listen to you more.
Treat them in the same manner as you would like others to treat you if are not showcasing the desired behavior. Make them feel responsible and wanted instead of treating them as pain in the neck. My two-year old grew some fascination lately with her shoes and insisted on wearing them all the time (might be she was symbolizing it with going out!!). She would climb up the beds & sofas with her shoes on. More I tried to tell her to take off the shoes, more adamant she became.
I even tried to keep a pair of clean shoes especially for home but it didn't work. So, I devised a plan. I showed her how I am keeping my shoes in the shoe-rack while my spouse applauded the act. Bingo… it worked. Now, the moment she comes back from outside, she takes off her shoes and place it in the shoe-rack, though she insists that someone should be there to clap for her!!!.
Consistency in our behavior while disciplining, also includes that other members of the family also align to the same page. The child should not get confusing signals from different approach of different elders on the same topic. Following the consensus can actually reinforce the desired behavior in small kids who learn mostly being into repetition mode.
Avoid confusing the child by tightening the noose around their nose one fine morning with the discipline schedule. The change cannot happen overnight. So, if you want your child to behave well in family functions or some birthday party, try incorporating the desired behavior at home as well.
Also, do not give in to tantrums. I know, it is quite difficult and embarrassing when you are in public places but if you fall in to this trap once, then the child would be smart enough to use this tactics next time as well. I choose to ignore my kid’s tantrum completely and continue with my chores if she is rolling on floor or shrieking her lungs out. After some time when she pacifies a bit, I firmly tell her she has to stop howling and reason her out why her demand cannot be fulfilled.
It works sometimes while there are other times when she continues her meltdown. I know many of my friends and relatives with kids of 2-10 years of age, who hit their kids occasionally at times when they can’t take the tantrums any more. But, I haven’t noticed any significant changes in their kid’s behavior because of this spanking. So, why to humiliate our child publicly or scare him/her with slaps?
Concluding the post, I can say that keep the discipline routine positive. Reinforce good manners & behavior by appreciation but never resort to bribe. And, above all always remember your kids observe your behavior too closely and tend to replicate the same. Incorporate the changes in your life which you want to implant in your child’s behavior. It would require a lot of patience & repetition. You may get instigated to raise your hands on the kids but always think about the embarrassment & fear element from the child’s perspective. Sometimes using the rod might spoil the child. Think about it!