Getting your children to follow your rules is one of the trickiest tasks to navigate as a parent. We promise you that you are not the only one to yell at your child after asking them to put their laundry in the basket for the millionth time or who would rather clean out the trash can rather than be on bedtime duty.
A lack of boundaries will affect your relationship with your children and your relationship with your spouse can also come under strain too.
Effective discipline is not about getting our children to obey our commands, it is about guiding our children to think about the consequences of their actions. Just as we teach our children how to read and write, we need to teach them how to behave appropriately.
It is easy to confuse punishment with discipline, and while we act with good intentions, taking toys away from our children or sending them to their room, for example, can often lead to bad behavior. Equally, buying our children toys when they have done well at school or allowing, okay, bribing them to eat candy when they tidy their room will only produce short-term results.
Poor mental health
Sometimes when things get tough we need to stop and look to the professionals for advice. Harvard Professor Jill Hooley carried out a study that reinforced previous research into the effects of parental criticism on children’s mental health. A variety of studies have shown that adults with mental health conditions have often come from a home in which parents or spouses have been overly hostile towards them. If you think about how you feel when a friend or colleague shouts at you, then the chances are it is not very nice. This is exactly the same for our children.
Hooley worked with people with a history of depression who had been stable for at least six months prior to the study. She asked them to listen to a recording of their parents criticizing them and found that the emotional areas of their brains went back into a depressive state. Those who were exposed to parental praise had no such reaction.
Dan Siegal, a professor at UCLA School of Medicine is in agreement with studies like Hooley’s. He said that time outs are commonly used in a “reactive and punitive manner that leaves children feeling more reactive and dysregulated.” He agrees, as we all do, that parental criticism is inevitable as we cannot be perfect all of the time, but it is time to think about how we interact with our children.
Changing your behavior
Recent research tells us that children will behave better when their parents show empathy and warmth and are consistent when applying rules. This means that the first step in effectively disciplining our children is modifying our own behavior. Sorry moms and dads but the hard work begins right here. In order to establish effective rules it is important to think about the following:
- Put yourself in their shoes. Think about why they are behaving in a certain way and what may have triggered a change in mood.
- Think about your own childhood as you may be putting rules in place that you had when you were a child that are not effective for your own children. Children need to know why you discipline them rather than just telling them to do something.
- Ask yourself how you control your anger. Shouting at our children may get things done in the short term but this form of discipline for children will only lead them to believe that they can shout back to get their own voice heard. Getting in touch with your own anger can lead you to be a better parent as you are able to help your children manage tough emotions.
- Try to understand why you are asking your child to do something. Is it beneficial to your child or do you simply want your child to do something to benefit you? If our children are allowed to self-regulate and feel a connection to their parents they are more likely to feel more comfortable as an adult.
- Establishing a strong relationship with your child in which they feel comfortable with how you discipline them will take time. There is an element of trial and error when disciplining children, none more so than helping your children to understand right from wrong.
If you have any advice on how to gently discipline children, we would love to hear what works for you and what doesn’t.