Since October of last year, South Africa’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the common law defence of ‘reasonable and moderate parental chastisement’ towards children is unconstitutional. In simple terms, it’s now illegal to spank your child in SA! The court emphasised that the intention is not to charge parents with a crime. Instead, they want to guide and support parents in finding more positive and effective ways to discipline children.
As children grow and change, their behaviour also changes. The child who doesn’t throw tantrums at two may backchat you at seven, and give you a major attitude at twelve. The best way to understand your child’s behaviour is to understand what they’re going through developmentally, say the experts. This knowledge will help you discipline them without resorting to yelling, threatening, or having a meltdown yourself.
Discipline is about guiding and teaching your children. It’s not about punishment or anger. It’s simply a way of helping children learn right from wrong and keeping them safe. There are strategies you can employ to keep your child on track at every age and stage.
So, what are the alternatives to disciplining your child?
TIPS FOR HANDLING TODDLERS:
Here are some ideas and tips you could try as a parent:
(Read this if you also have older children since all these can be applied to any age group).
Tantrums: Minimize meltdowns by finding out what triggers them. If your child always loses it when they’re hungry, make a point of having lots of healthy snacks on hand. If they get upset when they have to leave the park, give lots of warnings (10, 5 or 2 minutes) before you start packing up. Limit visits to notorious trouble spots such as the toy store.
Offer choices: Toddlers are all about independence and control. You can avoid a lot of problems by giving them a little more say in their lives. Two choices are enough for this age group, for example, “What do you want to do first: Brush your teeth or put on your PJs?”
Introduce consequences. When children make bad choices, they need to understand there will be certain consequences. Instead of making threats, give the child a choice and ask them what they will choose. Your child should learn the natural outcomes of their behaviour, otherwise known as cause and effect. For example, if they loudly insist on selecting their pyjamas (which takes an eternity), then they are also choosing not to read books before bed. Cause: Prolonged PJ-picking = Effect: No bedtime reading. Next time, they may choose their PJs more quickly or let you pick them out.
Another example: ‘If you refuse to clean your room, you will not be able to go to a party at the weekend. Which choice would you prefer?’ This leaves the responsibility for both the action and consequence up to the child.
Last example: Tell them that if they don’t pick up their toys, you will put them away for the rest of the day. Be prepared to follow through right away. Don’t give in by giving them back after a few minutes. Remember to never take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal.
Allow for Natural Consequences: Natural consequences allow children to learn from their own mistakes. For example, if your child says they’re not going to wear a jacket, let them go outside and get cold, as long as it’s safe to do so. Use natural consequences when you think your child will learn from their own mistake. Monitor the situation to ensure that your child won’t experience any real danger.
Hear them out: Listening is important. Let your child finish their story before helping solve the problem. Watch for times when misbehaviour has a pattern, like when your child is feeling jealous. Talk with your child about this, rather than just enforcing consequences.
Ignore Mild Misbehaviour: Selective ignoring can actually be more effective than spanking. This doesn’t mean you should look the other way when your child is doing something dangerous or inappropriate. But you can ignore attention-seeking behaviour. When your child tries to get attention by whining or complaining, don’t give it to them. Look the other way, pretend you can’t hear them, and don’t respond. Then, when they ask nicely or behave, return your attention to them. Over time, they’ll learn that polite behaviour is the best way to get their needs met.
If you say no 20 times a day, it will lose its effectiveness. Prioritize misbehaviours into minor, serious, and those too insignificant to bother with. If you ignore a mild infraction like your toddler screaming whenever you check your e-mail, they’ll eventually stop doing it. This is because they’ll see that it doesn’t get a rise out of you.
Keep your cool: Toddlers thrive on attention — positive or negative. If you overreact when your child intentionally dumps their cereal, or has a meltdown in the grocery store, you can bet they’ll do it again. Calmly let them know that it’s not appropriate to pour food on the floor, or scream when you can’t have another cookie. Keep it short and simple (no lectures, please) or you’ll just confuse them.
Know Your Child’s Triggers: Yes, your little angel will act up when your attention is diverted – making dinner, talking on the phone, etc. That’s why it’s essential to provide some entertainment – a favourite toy or a quick snack.
Some misbehaviour is preventable if you can anticipate what will spark it. You can create a game plan in advance, such as removing tangible temptations. If your toddler is prone to grabbing cans off grocery store shelves, bring toys for them. They can play in the cart while you’re shopping. If your toddler won’t share their stuffed animals during playdates at home, remove them from the designated play area before their pal arrives. If your toddler likes to draw on the walls, stash the crayons in an out-of-reach drawer. Don’t let them colour without supervision.
If your child tends to be happy and energetic in the morning, but is tired and grumpy after lunch, schedule trips to the store and visits to the doctor for when they’re at their best. Prepare them for any new experiences and explain how you expect them to act.
Also, prepare them for shifting activities: ‘In a few minutes we’ll need to pick up the toys and get ready to go home.’ The better prepared a child feels, the less likely they will make a fuss.
Be Consistent: Between the ages of 2 and 3, children are working hard to understand how their behaviour impacts the people around them. If your reaction to a situation keeps changing—one day you let your child throw a ball in the house and the next you don’t—you’ll confuse them with mixed signals.
There’s no timetable as to how many incidents and reprimands it will take before your child stops certain misbehaviours. If you always respond the same way, they’ll probably learn their lesson after four or five times. Consistency is key!
Don’t back down to avoid conflict: We all hate to be the party pooper, but you shouldn’t give in just to escape a showdown at the grocery store. If you decide that your child can’t have the cereal they saw on TV, stick to your guns. Later, you’ll be happy you did.
Act immediately: Don’t wait to discipline your toddler. They won’t remember why they’re in trouble more than five minutes after they did the dirty deed.
Give praise for good behaviour: If you praise your child when they behave well, they’ll do it more often. They’ll be less likely to behave badly just to get your attention. Positive reinforcement is fertilizer for that superego.
For example, if your child fights with their siblings often, set up a reward system to motivate them to get along better with each other. Providing an incentive for good behaviour can turn around misbehaviour fast. Rewards help children to focus on what they need to do to earn privileges. It’s better than emphasizing the bad behaviour they’re supposed to avoid.
Don’t forget to verbally praise. For example, when they’re playing nicely with their siblings, point it out. Tell them, “You are doing such a good job sharing and taking turns today.”
When there are several children in the room, give the most attention and praise to the children who are following the rules and behaving well. Then, when the other children begin to behave, give them praise and attention as well.
Take a time-out: By the time your child is two, time-outs can be an effective discipline tool. If your toddler angrily whacks his playmate over the head, take them to a designated time-out area. Here they can calm down and get in control of themselves. Explain to them what they’ve done wrong. Use simple words like ‘no hitting.’ Time-outs should only last for one minute per year of age, to a maximum of five minutes.
Don’t treat your child as if they’re an adult. They really don’t want to hear a lecture from you and won’t be able to understand it. The next time they throw their spaghetti, don’t break into the twenty-minute You-Can’t-Throw-Your-Food lecture. Calmly evict them from the kitchen for the night.
Don’t negotiate with your child or make promises: Try to avoid saying anything like, “If you behave, I’ll buy you that doll you want.” Otherwise, you’ll create a 3-year-old whose good behaviour always comes with a price tag.
Take Away Privileges: Take away the TV, video games, their favourite toy, or a fun activity for the day. They’ll have a reminder not to repeat that mistake. Make it clear when the privileges can be earned back. Usually, 24 hours is sufficient time for your child to learn from their mistakes. So you might say, “You’ve lost TV time for the rest of the day, but you can earn it back tomorrow by picking up your toys the first time I ask.”
Give Away for Good: For the most severe and repeat offenses, there is the Give Away. Take one of their favourite things and donate it to Salvation Army or Good Will. Have them physically hand it over.
The Do-Over: Everybody deserves a second chance, right? If your child has shown a lack of respect in some way, give them the option of a ‘do-over.’ Send them out of the room and have them start all over again. It gives them practice in treating others well.
Never ask more than twice: Here’s how it works:
• Ask once nicely. (Please put your toys away).
• Ask a second time, but warn of a negative consequence if your child doesn’t listen. (I asked you to please put your toys away. If you haven’t done it by the time I count to five, I’ll have to keep them from you until tomorrow evening). Avoid making unrealistic threats like, “Slam that door and you’ll never watch TV again!”
• Apply the negative consequence if necessary. If you don’t make good on your promise of discipline, you lose credibility.
Silence is Golden: Sometimes it is hurtful words from your child, or it could be a loudness that disturbs the peace. Taking away the privilege to talk for a certain amount of time will calm them down and give them time to think.
Take a coach approach: Coaches use questions beginning with what and how to help team members reach their goals. If your son has a fight with a friend, ask him, “What would you do differently the next time?” Your goal is to help him learn from the mistakes he made this time so he can do better the next time.
Natural Consequences: There is a school project your child has known about for 2 weeks. It is the night before it is due and they are in a panic. You warned them a week ago not to wait until the last moment, but it happened anyway. They are now pleading for you to assist them. Do not help them and let them experience the result of their actions. The anxiety, loss of sleep, and bad grade will teach them to make better decisions next time.
Grounding: Teach them that when we cross set boundaries or break laws we lose freedom. It may not be easy to tell your big, brown-eyed daughter she can’t go to the movies with her friends or to the school dance. Yet, doing so will be for her own good since she will learn the importance of respecting boundaries and following rules.
Set limits: Have clear and consistent rules your child can follow. Be sure to explain these rules in age-appropriate terms they can understand.
Choose Your Battles: Every single issue does not need to turn into a war. If you are constantly at odds with your child, they will eventually tune you out. Whether it is an outfit you don’t like, coming in a couple of minutes after curfew, or other small things, it may be best to let it pass. Choose wisely which issues are important enough to tackle.
Don’t dictate: When you’re setting rules and limits, involve your young debater in the process. Explain your position and listen to them. Always compromise where you can. If your 11-year-old wants to bump up their bedtime to 10 p.m., but you prefer 9, tell them you’ll try out 9:30 provided they aren’t nodding off at school. A willingness to be flexible and negotiate with your child will gain you more co-operative behaviour in the future.
Remind your child that you love them: It’s always good to end a disciplinary discussion with a positive comment. This shows your child that you’re ready to move on and not dwell on the problem. It also reinforces the reason you’re setting limits – because you love them.