Punishment is not Discipline (Part 2) Considerations

When my daughter who is now 30 started crawling, we attended as a couple some parenting classes. This was supplemented by visits from the seminar leader to consolidate the theory in practice. We thought at the time..why not? We are young, this is our first child and we thought we could surely learn something. As we were talking, my daughter crawled over towards a plant and reached for one of the leaves. The seminar leader jumped into action, putting herself between plant and child and yelling “no” at the top of her voice, scaring the daylights out of everyone in the room. I quickly picked my crying daughter up and asked what would be the next stage when she inevitably tried again to touch the leaf. “oh..smack her on the hand”. At this point, she was quickly escorted from the house, never to be seen again. Applying positive discipline would have meant a different result but more on that later.

From my last post, you will know that positive discipline must take place in a loving, respectful, kind but firm learning atmosphere. This teaches children what they can do not telling them constantly what they can’t do. There are some prerequisites for this. Firstly the house should be childproof meaning that anything that is dangerous or you do not want destroyed should be out of reach. This allows for healthy, safe exploration. Essential also is that the parents make time for the measures and bring endless amounts of patience along with it. Parents will need to repeat steps over and over again and need time and patience for this. Parents also need to clue themselves up on developmental phases and what is appropriate behavior for children of a certain age. Consider this: two children same age, different personalities. Which one would you say will grow up with more self-esteem?

Child A often sits alone, reading and playing quietly needing no input from parents. He is the classic “seen and not heard” child. The parents are proud because unlike their friend’s child, he doesn’t need disciplining or punishment. They can watch TV without being disturbed and when they have people over for dinner they can put him in his room and never hear a sound. The school has recently contacted them with the comment that he finds change difficult and is often disruptive when asked to do something new. The parents cannot believe this! Child B loves to explore the large family room that the family sits in. He has his toys in a specific place but is allowed to explore freely with intervention from his parents when needed. He never has to worry that his parents will shout and become angry and really enjoys the final game before bed in which he has to choose which color box to put his toys in. He loves it when his father says “which one this time..red or green for the cars?”. The parents are content that he is happy but have received a comment from their friends that their house is always so untidy.

The most important factor in the implementation of positive discipline is trust and the basis of this can be grounded from birth onwards. The first months and years of a child’s life teaches him about the world and the people in it.  Children who are happy and healthy and have been given boundaries are more likely to grow up balanced than a child who has suffered abuse or neglect or has parents with limited parenting skills. Parents must respond to a baby’s cues from the get-go, especially for this is where trust and security is given or taken away. One of the first parenting skills for parents to learn is how to respond to the many signs that a baby will give about his preferences. He will surely cry when hungry, needs changing or is sick. It is important that he receives attention for these things as these are his needs. As parents become more experienced they will learn that they must care for a baby’s basic needs but it is extremely harmful to give into to all wants. The result being strong dependence on the parent. Children learn more when they are confident that their needs are met and parents can allow them to gain self-esteem by self-soothing. Babies who have parents who give appropriate time and attention to them during this early bonding phase usually go on to develop healthier relationships with others. This early phase with babies is crucial if positive discipline is to be effective. Touch, voice and making time for play is essential. Even though, we as adults like to make noises towards babies that we think they respond to, it is important for brain development that they hear their parent’s voices in normal speech, through reading, commenting and singing. Many experts believe that using a running commentary when going about daily activities with the baby is extremely useful. All of these things set the foundation for effective positive discipline as the child gets older. In my next post, I will be looking at positive discipline methods in specific situations.

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