Pick up useful methods to teach junior right from wrong that do not involve physical punishment.

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Disciplining your child is arguably the most important, yet most unpleasant part of your role as a parent. Even when you discipline your children with love and positivity, there will be times where your child gets on your nerves because you can’t seem to get through to them.

And when your promises of consequences fall on deaf ears is when you feel compelled to reach for the cane, especially with the older children.

However, Phua Liling, a consultant with Chapter Zero Singapore and administrator of the Respectful/Mindful Parenting Singapore Facebook group, notes that research clearly shows that spanking is bad for junior’s development.

“Children who are spanked become more aggressive over time, display other anti-social behaviours, are more prone to lying, and are at a higher risk of developing mental health problems later in life.”

She adds, “I’m passionate about helping parents break out of hitting as a patterned reaction to their children’s behaviour.”

To discipline your tot is to teach desirable future behaviour, whereas punishment inflicts suffering for past behaviour.

Noting that spanking has a traumatic effect on children, even leading to psychiatric disorders later in life, Insights Mind Centre psychologist Daniel Koh explains, “It teaches your child the power of anger or pain and makes it normal for them to demonstrate such hurtful physical acts on others.”

Renowned educational psychologist Dr Michele Borba points out that spanking also sends your child a mixed message — it’s okay for adults to hit but not kids. Plus, your kewpie will not learn anything new if you cane them.

So, it is important to differentiate between discipline and punishment, Phua advises. “Although ‘discipline’ and ‘punishment’ are frequently used interchangeably, they are not synonyms.” To discipline your tot is to teach desirable future behaviour, whereas punishment inflicts suffering for past behaviour.

Therefore, your discipline tactics should be geared towards changing an old behaviour and not causing your mini-me to associate pain with misbehaviour. Why not try these cane-free strategies:

1. Put positive house rules in place Your house rules should be tailored to make it easier for your child to behave better. These rules should also be written in positive language, says Dr Borba. So, instead of coming up with a rule that reads: We do not speak rudely to each other. Try: We speak calmly and politely with one another or we will treat each other respectfully. To ensure your child follows these rules, come up with consequences if they break the rules. It can be as simple as helping out with chores or more reading time and less time for watching cartoons.

2. Use when and then statements Rephrasing the instructions your give to your tyke helps them to understand what your expectations are. So, the next time you want them to put their toys away before bedtime, try saying, “When you’ve put away your toys, then I know you’re ready for bed.” Likewise for washing their hands before their meals, try,
“When you’ve washed your hands, then I’ll know you’re ready to eat.”
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3. Short but effective time-outs Don’t issue a ridiculously long time-out, for instance, a period that lasts a half hour. Keep it short —between five and 10 minutes is more than sufficient. You might want to place a timer, so they have a visual aid to tell them when the time-out is over. It is also equally important to talk to your child after his time-out, to ensure he understands why he was being disciplined.

​​​​​​​4. Tell your child which behaviours you’ll like them to do more and less of List your child’s behaviours — both good and bad. Follow Dr Borba’s three-prong approach to discipline:

* First, list the behaviours they do less of. Be specific when identifying the behaviour. For instance, if he’s being rude, you should name specifically in what manner — is he talking back? Is he not using please and thank you? Is he interrupting you?

* List the behaviours she’ll need to do more of such as minding their manners, coming in on time and respecting authority.

* Then, remember to list the behaviours they do just right — these are the ones you’ll like to reinforce by praising them. Look for what your child does right and acknowledge those behaviours.

Finally, share your observations with them, telling them what behaviours you love, what you’re proud to see them do and what you’ll want to see them do more of. Better yet, write them down on a piece of paper and place it somewhere prominent, so that your mini-me can refer to it.

Avoid disciplining your child when he is expected to wind down for the day or right before naptime.

5. Find the right occasion to discipline your child Koh says to avoid disciplining your child when he is expected to wind down for the day or right before naptime. You should also refrain from disciplining your child in front of others — whether it’s family members or strangers. Your child may feel you are shaming them for their misbehaviour.

6. Play the quiet game The next time your child gets into a verbal fight with their sibling in the backseat, try to get them to play the quiet game — see who’s able to remain silent for the longest time. And the one who loses will need to help out with the chores while the winner gets more playtime or an extra snack.

7. Spend time building strong bonds It’s more important to be in tune with your cherub’s feelings and needs instead of just focusing on their unwelcome behaviours, states Phua. “Instead of focusing on behaviour management, I place greater value on connecting with my [daughter], Hannah, 3.” Phua adds she makes an effort to enjoy playing, reading and simply being present with her daughter, which helps to build a strong sense of connection. Knowing what your child needs allows you to prevent tantrums as they will not need to misbehave to get your attention.

8. Be consistent All your rules and consequences will not change your little one’s behaviour if you’re not consistent. You need to be firm in dishing out consequences of their misbehaviour and also make sure that the rules apply to everyone, including their siblings, Koh notes.

Photos: iStock

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