Issues around indiscipline, particularly within the school environment, have been generating much discussion and to a larger extent, a lot of the debates seek to ascribe blame instead of identifying root causes and workable solutions. From where I sit as a parent, teacher/trainer, motivational speaker as well as head of the International Women’s Resource Network, instilling discipline in children MUST begin in their primary environment which is in the home as it is paramount for every area of the child’s development. Every element of learning to which children are exposed to must start with appropriate disciplinary mechanisms that shape their value system around respect for self and others.
Far too often, parents and caregivers abdicate their responsibility for a number of reasons—a common one being that of attempting to remain friends with their children and so allow them their free will to do as they please, much of which is regretted later on. Whilst parents need to love their children unconditionally, they’re also entrusted with the responsibility to provide the required guidance and correction if the child attempts to engage in any type of wrongdoing. In fact, I have witnessed instances where parents who allowed their children free reign are now chastised by those very children. Believe it or not, children appreciate being disciplined, but the action inflicted on the child must be within reasonable limits and not abusive.
Genesis of indiscipline
Indiscipline emanates from varying spaces, particularly within the school environment. Favouritism, for example, is a common factor where teachers favour and/or pay more attention to some students than others, and those so offended may be tempted to rebel. Lack of rule enforcement—when students are not punished for offences and continue to engage in wrongdoing. The absence of clear communication between students and teachers—this is critical for the creation of a respectable student/teacher relationship. When teachers do not fulfil their role as leaders, some students would capitalise on this by filling the leadership role which more than likely leads to indiscipline. Students who are not motivated tend to work in a manner which may be opposite to the required norms and therein lies the likelihood for indiscipline.
Healthy disciplinary strategies
Over the years, instilling discipline has been raising many red flags. In a number of instances, some parents/caregivers appear to be abusive towards the child as opposed to pure disciplinary action. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have identified healthy discipline strategies which all should pay attention to. Begin with show and tell—teach children right from wrong using calm words and actions and also model behaviours you’d like to see in your children.
Set limits by having clear and consistent rules which your children can follow—please ensure that these rules are shared in age-appropriate terms that can be easily understood; explain the consequences calmly and firmly if they refuse to behave. For example, tell your kid that he/she should not pick up their toy and you’d take them away for the rest of the day and stick to that action. Never take away and/or deprive them of an important need such as meals.
Avoid being the big bad wolf and listen to your children—let them complete their story before assisting with solving the problem and observe occasions when misbehaviour has a pattern. Give them your undivided attention as that has proven to be a powerful tool for effective discipline; it also reinforces good behaviours…remember the best gift to a child is attention from their parents. Whilst it’s good to discipline for wrongdoing, it is also excellent to reward good behaviour. Once your child is not engaging in dangerous behaviour and gets a lot of attention for good behaviour, ignoring bad behaviour can be an effective strategy in stopping it. Always plan ahead and prepare for upcoming activities and how you’d like them to behave. Children become bored quickly and so it’s advisable to have them occupied wisely as much as possible.
Discipline by age and stage
The policy statement of the AAP, “Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children” highlights why it’s important to shift the focus towards teaching good behaviour rather than punishing bad behaviour. Research studies have also shown that physical forms of punishment don’t work well in correcting a child’s behaviour and the same theory applies in the use of loud and shaming tones and/or language all of which affect the child in later years as he/she progresses to adulthood. The AAP has shared some positive correctional strategies to be used on kids depending on their age/stage.
Starting with infants—babies learn by watching and imitation and so examples of good behaviour should be set and shown to them; use positive language. For example, say “time to sit” instead of “don’t stand”. Save the word “NO” for more important safety issues—limit the need to say “NO” by keeping dangerous or tempting objects unreachable. For toddlers—teach them not to hit, bite or use other aggressive behaviours. Model non-violent behaviour by not spanking and instead handle in a constructive manner. For pre-schoolers—assign age-appropriate chores such as putting their toys away; instead provide simple step-by-step directions and reward them accordingly.
Adolescents and teens are progressing to young adulthood and should be disciplined differently. Your unconditional love must be balanced with clear expectations, rules, and boundaries; get to know your teen’s friends and discuss issues around responsibility and respectful friendships.
Adriana Sandrine Isaac-Rattan is President of the International Women’s Resource Network.