We were discussing Dr. Phil McGraw, whom I hold in the highest esteem. One of his programmes on tv some years ago featured a woman who had a son in his late teens. She claimed that he was out of control and would yell and shout and was rude etc. She couldn't understand why he was like this, and maintained that it wasn't anything she did to cause him to be so badly behaved. Then they showed a video of her and the stepfather interacting with the boy. Frankly, I cried for the boy. She started on him the minute he walked in the door, and she screamed abuse at him, called him every hideous name you can think of, she spoke to him as though he was scum. It was truly the most shocking and horrifying attack. The boy's response was to yell back, he was visibly upset and trying to defend himself.
I just sat shaking my head at that woman, who dared to call herself a mother. Dr. Phil said to her that she was the reason that her son was yelling, and of course it was her treatment of him that caused his reaction. He made a brilliant point, telling the woman that she had been writing on her son's slate since the day he was born. She treated her son so badly, and at the end of the segment Dr. Phil's wife Robin came onto the set, saying that she was watching on the monitor and she cried for the boy as well. She just wanted to give him a huge hug. Naturally the poor son was crying also.
There are so very many families in which this scene is enacted daily, which to me is unbearably sad.
It says to me that at the very base of the relationship there is absolutely no respect from the parent for the child. The parent then wonders why the child shows lack of respect. My memory tells me that the meaning of the word "respect" is to show consideration or regard for, or to hold in esteem or to honour. The huge keyword here is consideration. Being thoughtful or sympathetic toward someone. I have the firm belief that we should show even our babies respect - being thoughtful or sympathetic towards them.
Which leads me back into discipline. We show regard for the age of the child when we discipline. If a child is too small to apply reasoning, then it is not going to be appropriate to explain to him why he is being punished for pinching his brother! He just cannot understand yet.
So some of the techniques to use I will set out here, and try to explain why it is appropriate to use them, and a rough age guide. With tiny tots, say up to about 18 months old, the easiest and most effective discipline is to focus on the good behaviour, and not the bad behaviour. If we can ignore the bad behaviour as much as possible, and only pay attention to the little one when he is behaving well, this works amazingly well. At this age your child needs and wants your attention - if he isn't getting it by behaving well, he will behave badly. Any attention is better than none. So reinforcing the good behaviour by acknowledging it and praising the child is more powerful than you would realise. For this age also, redirecting the child from bad behaviour towards good behaviour is the simple technique to use.
As your child gets older you will find that you need to add to your little book of discipline tricks, as from probably 18 months through to 4 years of age you can start explaining how you need him to behave, and why. I found it was best to use the simplest instruction or explanation I could to start with. As my daughter grew I could use more complex explanation, but without overwhelming her. You can also add time out - and time out needs to be in a place that is 'neutral' and as boring as it gets. On a step, in a corner, anywhere there are no toys to play with or tv to watch for example. The child is then ignored, until he calms down or is quiet. The general rule for time outs is one minute per each year of the child's age. However, time-outs shouldn't be longer than 5 minutes.
You will find that your little tot starts to be able to learn good judgment when they are given instructions and explanations for the behaviour you expect. And time out makes them think about what they have done that is not acceptable behaviour. More than one little child has put herself in time out for misbehaving!
After the age of 4, until the child is a teen, you can add rules, but you will really need to keep repeating the rules for your smaller children until they learn to abide by them on their own. With children who are going to school you can effectively add "grounding" - which is really a more grown-up version of time out! I would take a rough guess that most of us have been "grounded" at some stage during our growing up years. Effectively it is restricting the child to the house, or their room, for a set period of time as a punishment for infringing the rules. As an example, if the child arrives home from playing at a friend's an hour later than he is supposed to, then he will be "grounded" and not allowed out to play the following day.
A further discipline that can be introduced is withholding privileges. Dr. Phil says :
- "Children should learn that privileges come with responsibility and they need to be earned. In order to be effective, this technique should be used infrequently. A privilege that is valued by the child, such as watching television or playing with friends, should be removed."
So as a summary, effective discipline for age 0 to 18 months is : Redirecting and reinforcement (or positive reinforcement).
From 18 months until 4 years : Positive reinforcement, Redirecting, Verbal Instruction and or Explanation, and time out.
From 4 years to 12 years: Positive reinforcement, redirecting, verbal instruction and/or explanation, time out, establishing rules, grounding, and withholding privileges.
After the age of 12 it is not really appropriate, nor should it be necessary, to use redirection, or time out.
The main thing to remember is be consistent. Don't confuse the child by changing punishments from one day to the next. If you say that Johnny will be put into time out if he hits his sister, then continue to use that discipline, come what may. Johnny then knows that if he chooses to do wrong then he chooses the punishment, whatever it might be. And stay as calm as you possibly can - which sounds easy but is awfully hard to do. There won't be many of us who haven't yelled at our child, but it serves no real purpose, it just generates more anger, and unfortunately your child will learn his responses from you - he will yell back at you.
My really strong belief is that we don't say the child is bad, it is the behaviour that is bad. I would be interested to know if you have found any of this helpful.