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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Take a level-headed approach when it comes to kids and discipline 

Here are some tips on how to talk to kids about discipline 

Given children a notion of perceived choice can help keep a sane household. Getty 
Given children a notion of perceived choice can help keep a sane household. Getty 

The quickest way to turn our house into a battle­ground of tears and raised voices is to turn off the television. Armageddon commences should you dare to press the off button in the middle of an episode of my daughters’ favourite show for something as trivial as eating dinner or doing homework. Once the tantrums die down (and I’m ashamed to say that sometimes includes mine), I vow to manage better next time, but the situation repeats itself on a regular basis. What I need is to reassert my authority to avoid the clash of wills between an overtired 40-something and a 7- and 8-year-old with pre-tween senses of personal injustice. But where to start?

Move away from the anger

When you’re in a rage, discipline becomes an exercise in control, instead of a useful opportunity for guidance, or a way to teach kids right from wrong. It’s probably the hardest self-discipline to follow, but parents need to step away as tensions rise. Far better to return to the scene of an argument with a cool head and adjudicate calmly.

Training not words

Treating your child as a ­miniature adult who will be able to make positive choices if only they have all the ­relevant information is a huge mistake that modern-­day parents often make, according to Dr Thomas Phelan, the bestselling author of 1-2-3 Magic: 3-Step Discipline for Calm, Effective, Happy Parenting, a down-to-earth parenting book aimed at managing kids between the ages of 2 and 12. Phelan claims that the frustration of constantly ­having to reason with your child leads to the “Talk-Persuade-Argue-Yell-Hit Syndrome”. Far better to implement a direct but gentle 1-2-3 warning system to train little ones to obey. If your child does not curb his or her behaviour by the third count, he counsels, it’s time to implement a time-out or appropriate penalty such as cutting their pocket money.

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A sort of compromise

The best parenting advice I have ever been given, which saved my sanity in a house with two toddlers under the age of 2, was the notion of perceived choice. I quickly lost count of the times when I averted a battle of wills by ­giving my two girls an ­either/or option between two things, both of which I was happy for them to choose. In this way, their hunger for independence was satisfied and I managed to keep my equilibrium.

Perceived choice 2.0

As children grow older, their appetite for self-­determination becomes more keenly articulated and they’ll never run out of explanations as to why they can’t possibly do what it is you’re asking. Now’s the time to set down some house rules; however, your kids have to be in agreement. The upside is that you get to choose what rules are on the kitchen table – the downside is that you’ll certainly have to compromise on the detail. For example, we’ve agreed as a family that the TV should go off after 5pm except on the weekend when there is no TV during the day, but we all sit down to watch a movie on Friday and Saturday nights. That last part was my kids’ idea. Write out the rules, get everyone to sign the declaration and post it up on the fridge. Now just make sure you stick to them no matter what; consistency in discipline is king.

Aim for positive messages

If your boss never ­notices, praises or rewards your best efforts, how long is it before demotivation and a sloppier work ethic sets in? ­Unsurprisingly, kids, being human, work the same way. So instead of jumping in to criticise an error of judgement or behaviour failing, try saying: “I know you can do better than that. Why don’t you try it again?” Don’t skimp on “thank you” and “well done” when appropriate.

Go play with some Lego

The net result of poor ­discipline is often a ­misbehaving child who’s exhausting to be with and a strung-out parent who doesn’t look forward to spending time with their little ones. Taking time to reflect upon whether you could be doing a more successful job of managing poor behaviour and finding a discipline strategy that works for everyone is often transformative. Once the tensions subside, don’t forget to hang out and find ways to have fun as a family to restore everyone’s sense of well-being.