Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Applying gentle discipline

Every child is different. Some tender-hearted young souls can be reduced to tears by a look of disapproval of a parent's or caregiver's face. Others need firmness, backed up by appropriate disciplinary measures to drive the message home. This article will focus on those in the former category.

With babies, the parents bear responsibility for keeping the child safe and out of trouble. Transferring breakable objects to high places, providing covers for electrical outlets, installing a baby gate at the head and foot of stairways are among practical safeguards that should be taken.

After raising four children, two of whom fitted the placid profile, I'm a firm believer in the value of playpens. It gives the parent opportunity to complete necessary household duties without worry; it gives the child a sense of security while he learns to amuse himself with his toys.

Toddlers will be enjoying more freedom and they love to explore. When they approach something which could be harmful, such a cup of hot coffee, a firm command "No!" should solve the problem for the moment. However, children of this age have short memories and almost insatiable curiosity, so this procedure may need to be repeated several times.

Valuable objects and potentially dangerous items should still be kept out-of-reach, for the parent's peace of mind and the child's welfare. He needs freedom to explore his environment without a constant barrage of "No!" assaulting his tender eardrums.

As the child's acuity in receptive and expressive language develops, your disciplining tasks become easier. You can explain why specific actions or behaviours are harmful or wrong and question the child to be sure the message was received and understood.

As before, the message may need to be repeated, and perhaps enforced with a brief "time out", but a sensitive, intelligent child usually sees the need for reasonable restrictions quite easily.

Through the primary school years, all should proceed smoothly. The children amenable to gentle discipline will often share details of school life, activities and friendships quite readily. They will listen to your opinions and advice and usually act accordingly.

A major hurdle may present itself during the teenage years. At this stage, peers and their opinions begin to take precedence over parents, home, and family. Add to the scenario raging adolescent hormones and you have the ingredients for some worrisome problems.

This is the time to build on the good communication you have established with your child. Continue to speak logically, calmly, and do not express shock at any remarks, no matter how outrageous. You and the limits you establish will be tested.

If situations do arise where disciplinary measures are called for, start out with the minimum, for example, grounding for a weekend. If the infraction is repeated, increase the length of time, say for an entire week.

It the problem continues, switch strategies: begin removing privileges. Again, start with the minimum, for instance, ban a favourite TV show for a week. Gradually increase the seriousness of the consequences to, for example, removal of phone privileges for two weeks. If the disobedience continues, it may be time to call in professional help.

Every child is different. Parents of children who respond well to gentle discipline are fortunate. They will enjoy relatively pleasant years while their offspring are children. The teenage years are troublesome for nearly all moms and dads. The young people are stretching their wings, asserting their independence, and preparing to leave the nest.

The time for gentle discipline has passed. The name of the game now is survival. Close your eyes, cover your ears and prepare for their blast off!

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