“To spank or not to spank” can elicit heated discussion, but is that the wrong question? It depends on what you want to achieve. Maybe the question is: How can we be in charge and discipline so that children learn and eventually do what is expected of them—and grow up to be happy, healthy, responsible, productive members of society?
Guidelines from the Positive Discipline Parenting and Classroom Management Model (www.positivediscipline.com) articulate some specific objectives of discipline they find consistent with helping children to grow to become responsible adults: (feeling of) Belonging and significance; (adults be) Kind and firm at the same time; (learning) What to do in the future to survive or to thrive; (learning) Respect, concern for others, problem solving, and cooperation as well as skills to contribute to the home, school, or larger community. (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
But how do we put these rather broad ideas into practice when faced with a screaming preschooler in the supermarket, or a squirming child on the restaurant chair?
- It is possible, with younger children especially, to avoid or prevent some situations where children will behave badly. (I would not take a young child into a big box toy store, for example. It is natural that the child will want everything, or at best, one expensive plastic toy packaged in bright-colored cardboard, that they can’t live without. Or—I wouldn’t have foods/drinks in the house that I don’t want the children to have, even at certain times (alternatively, we can “go” for ice cream or have a snack when out).
- Face it: Adults can’t win in a power struggle with a child, so avoid the power struggle. The child is not listening to you? Be prepared to remove the child from the situation until they are “ready” to return. That means you might have to leave that restaurant! Young children need to move—that’s part of growing!
- Routines can help, as children’s “inner clocks” begin to trust and expect what will happen next. (At preschool, when I announced “snack time” to the children playing outdoors, everyone rountinely came inside to the tables. On the day that the clocks were moved backward an hour when daylight savings time ended, no one moved!)
- When young children are in playgroups or playing with siblings or neighbors, there are bound to be fights, usually over toys. (Adults want children to “share.” But, taken to logical ends, do we really want children to give their belongings away? Do we give our belongings away at a whim?)
- Are they at your home? If so, you can set guidelines. My favorite: Someone can have a turn with a toy as long as they want to, then another child can have their turn. (This actually creates more generosity that forced sharing.) And no leaving something, then coming back and demanding it back when someone else is using it-“Your turn was over,” said in a kindly way will teach that idea.
- Certain toys were mine—yes, I, the adult, “owned” certain toys, that I could bring out when children were visiting. That meant that my own children didn’t always have to “share” their own toys, which would suddenly become interesting again, after having been set aside long ago! (I especially liked those toys that had lots of pieces, easier to deal with when supervised.) And I could put away my toys when the time was right!
- Talk with your adult children (in advance) about who will step in when everyone is at your home. Parents naturally feel responsible to step in, but accepting your limits in your home makes sense to me.
- Lay the groundwork for growing self-control: When a child is doing something you wish to stop, tell them what you want them to do (rather than what you want them to stop). For example: “Put the block in the box.” Move in when necessary.
- - Also, at each intervention you make, give the child the words they can use to express themselves (i.e., Tell her, “stop pushing me, ” or, “Tell him, “I don’t like that.” (Also, adults want children to say they are sorry, even if they aren’t. It sort of goes against learning to express honest feelings. Give them some space to calm down and understand what another child may be feeling. Children most often will choose keeping their friend over behaving badly toward them.)
- Mutual respect is a good thing. I believe in respecting a child’s choices concerning their own bodies. In dress, for example, (within some realistic limits) or eating preferences (when able to choose from healthy choices).
- “Do unto others as you would have them do until you” may not work in response to an unruly child. Ironically: Too strict and too lenient discipline results in similar selfish behaviors in children. Are the limits clear? (Adults sometimes say “no” to a request, then back down when the child kicks up a fuss. This reinforces the tantrums. Balance the “yesses” and the “nos”, and stick to your decisions.
For a well-researched and fun article on application of the “experts” methods for discipline, check out Jacqueline Burt at Parents.com: http://www.parents.com/kids/discipline/strategies/7-easy-ways-to-fix-bad-behavior/
Again, notice, appreciate, enjoy positive behaviors.