We love our children but we love them best if we create for them a loving and caring home where rules are measured and expected to be kept. Our children need to know where the loving limits have been set. This conflicts with the age of self expression that we live in.
Our children are encouraged to express themselves as though that was a virtue, and the result is that we often end up with children who live without any limits being placed upon their behaviour –they just do whatever they like with their parents being involved in a follow up damage limitation exercise!
When do we start this process of order and discipline? Some take the approach that we should give them a few years until they reach the age of reason and then discuss the issues concerned. This means that parents end up trying to reason with a 3 year old about the consequences or otherwise of a certain course of action! Is this wise? Why wait until bad habits are ingrained and then painfully try to remove them. It is surely better to introduce good habits early on and lay foundations for good behaviour. Remember that bad habits come naturally and are not the result of outside influences. When a child is young you don’t need a long list of rules and regulations – in fact the fewer the better. Having rules that are kept because we love our children gives them the security that they need. An undisciplined child is usually an insecure child!
Children are all different and part of the secret of discipline is to find out the kind of child we have and use appropriate methods. For some children a severe look is enough; for others it may be the withdrawal of a treat. Parents need to act in an agreed way that is both firm and consistent. Bad disciplinary practices often mean that children are disciplined at the end of a long process by which time the parent has lost control and is either verbally or physically abusing the child. We need to learn how to discipline.
Here is a fairly typical incident. A power struggle is beginning in the living room. The child is laying down a challenge to the parent and they reach out and take something they are not allowed to have. They are aware of that rule and confirm the challenge by looking at the parent wondering if the parent will rise to the bait? Sometimes parents just avoid the issue completely which tells the child that they have won and are the effective rulers of the home! At other times the parents engage with the child telling them to put the article back. At this point the child ignores the comment of the parent and this only serves to raise their hackles. They raise the stakes by shouting a little louder and with more emphasis. Again the child dismisses the parent. This jousting can go on for quite a while with the parent’s voice becoming louder and more desperate and the temper becoming more frayed until breaking point is reached and they scream at the child. Now the child knows that they must obey because their parent is about to enforce the rule! If the child does not obey at this time the parent exercises discipline in a harsh way because they have lost control. Parents then feel guilt and remorse and the result of all this is negative. The child has learned nothing and the parent beats themselves up for wrong responses. A better way is to enforce the rule at the beginning of the process. Don’t allow repeated wrong action. Use a normal level of voice (rule keeping should not be associated with high volume!) and enforce the rule at the beginning. At that point the parent is in control of themselves and any discipline can be carried out in a controlled way. Result –everyone learns from the experience. The child learns not to break the rules, knows who is in charge and the parent is able to enforce a loving discipline for the benefit of the child in the context of the family.
Raising our children is a huge challenge but learning some rules of discipline helps enormously. All the best!
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Newry Baptist Church
31-33 Lower Catherine Street