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Effective Child Discipline

By on November 4, 2011 in Parenting & Education

Why You Don’t Need To Smack Children

I was smacked as a child and when I first had children I considered it a normal part of the disciplinary and learning process, to smack my children when I perceived them to be naughty or disobedient. I have radically changed my opinion on that now believing that is wrong to smack your child under any circumstances.

I don’t’ consider it wrong just on some moral or ideological grounds.  I think it just a bad and counterproductive strategy for developing a happy and well adjusted child.  I know that many people will put their hands up and say their parents smacked them when they were naughty and it has not harmed them in any way.

What is smacking when you really think about it?  It’s an act of violence resulting in pain.  There is no argument that pain is an effective feedback mechanism enabling us to learn what is good for us and what is not.  We all learnt in our childhood that fire will burn us.  We did not need to touch the kettle or some other hot appliance that many times for that lesson to be learnt.

How about a young infant that wants to play with electrical wiring or wall sockets? This is a classic situation where many parents feel that a slap across the hand is justified and the lesser of two evils when compared to the risk of electrocution.

I believe there is a much better way without resorting to physical violence. Parents have a much greater behavioral control mechanism at their disposal if they know how to use it.

I chose the above example of dealing with an infant and electrical wiring because this is something I have recently gone through with the baby girl pictured in the header.  She is now two years old and like all children her age has a fascination with switches, wires and wall sockets.

So How Did I Stop Her Wanting To Play With Those Things
Without Smacking Her Or Threatening To Do So?

There is something that every parent needs to understand about their child.  There is nothing a child craves and needs more in its life than the love and approval of its parents. A child naturally wants to please and receive the approval of its parents.  I know it may not seem that way to many parents struggling with children that seem to be doing everything they can to displease them.

My approach was to explain to her that it was dangerous and I did not want her to touch the wires.  I explained this intelligently and not in baby talk.   Of course this happened on a few occasions before she complied.  When she continued I changed to a disapproving tone which usually worked but there were a couple of occasions when she persisted and I issued a very firm instruction to stop which was ignored after which I responded by picking her up and expressing my strongest disapproval saying “you are a naughty girl” and placing her in her play pen.

I know it is more the fact that she has been ostracized and I have withdrawn my apparent love and approval for her that is the most effective deterrent.  The brief play pen isolation only served to reinforce the lesson and was not really the punishment or deterrent.

I have supported this child since she was one month old but have only been actively involved with her upbringing for the past few months and I am getting fantastic results with her.   When she arrived she had some behavioral problems.   She would have tantrums which including swinging her head around violently often resulted in her hurting it and intensifying her tantrum.

At first the mother was alarmed with how I dealt with such behavior which was by expressing my strong disapproval and then totally ignoring her. The mother on the other hand wanted to pick her up and try to comfort her. I could see that her tantrums were very contrived and used to control her mother.

It was not long before such tantrums were a thing of the past.  I remember one occasion in the supermarket where she was holding something breakable which I could see would soon be on the floor and I gently held it and explained that we would put it in the shopping trolley then  took it from her and placed it in the trolley.

She took a deep breath and her eyes became teary and she started with the loudest howl you could imagine and what happened next shocked the mother and was a turning point where she could really see my strategy was working.  I turned to her and in a stern voice said something along the lines of “you can cry all you want…”

I did not get to finish my sentence.  She abruptly stopped.  It was the same disapproving tone she had learnt did not get her the results she wanted.  She realized that it was just not going to work now.  To be honest I half expected I would be walking around the aisles with a screaming infant.  I was pleased with how fast she was learning.

Today she is a totally different child to the one that first arrived.  She is happy and is always actively seeking approval by trying to please me because she loves the positive feedback I provide.

Back to the electrical wiring and wall sockets.  The most common approach for well intentioned parents is to issue the “Don’t” word in a loud and abrupt tone and then follow up with a smack if it is ignored.  I really try not to use the “Don’t” word as it’s a word that parents use too much.   How many times does an infant hear “Don’t Touch” or don’t do this or don’t do that?  I think many parents would be shocked how many times they use it if they heard a play back of their interaction with their infant.

It is totally natural for an infant to want to touch and explore everything in her environment. This is how they learn.  I think it must be a very confusing world for many infants that when engaging in this natural learning activity keep hearing the “Don’t” word usually with no explanation.  Sometimes it is accompanied by a smack if the parent feels they have already issued sufficient warnings in the past.

My approach is to issue a polite request to desist which she understands.  This may include the word don’t but it will be embedded in a more complete request accompanied by an explanation of why I don’t want her to touch whatever she is wanting to touch.  She may not always understand my actual explanation but I am sure she understands that it is an explanation.

Why The Threat Of Withdrawing Love And Approval
Will Not Currently Work For Many

There is another side to the love and approval equation.  In order to be able to effectively use the threat of withdrawal as a deterrent you must be giving it in the first place and sadly too few parents give their children enough of the love and approval they so crave.

Children that don’t perceive they have their parents’ love and approval will not respond well to a parent threatening to withdraw it for undesirable behavior.  For them it will just be a further demonstration that they do not have it. Love and approval includes giving the child attention.  Talking to her and listening to her, even the apparent babblings of an infant not yet able to master language.

Children are a lot more intelligent than most parents give them credit for being.  They quickly develop strategies for getting what they want.  For many tantrums, crying and other bad behavior are effective ways of controlling or gaining the attention of their parents.  Many parents give in to their children when they employ such techniques but this only reinforces that behavior to them as an effective strategy.

I was able to quickly get results using ‘love and approval’ despite the fact that the child had not experienced this behavioral deterrent before.  This is because I was new in my disciplinary role and provided a logical and consistent behavioral model she could follow.  If you want to try this with your existing child and have been using other methods then it will take time before your child will understand and adapt to your new approach.  In the beginning it probably will not seem to work at all.

I will finish with a message to my own four boys who are all mature now.   They have all turned out very well and I am proud of them but I do regret using corporal punishment with them and will ask them to forgive me for that.  I was wrong to do so and I sincerely hope that when they have children they will not use it also.

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