Eileen Hayes (Editor in Chief - Your Family magazine) gives expert video advice on: What is the best way of disciplining a child?; Should I smack my child when they are naughty?; Is it legal to smack a child in the UK? and more...
Why do children need discipline?
Children do need boundaries set to their behavior. It would be lovely for parents if you could just be your child's friend and always be going along with what they want, but of course that is impossible. Some older children will want things they can't have and they are very often going to be aggressive or mean to other children, and they have to learn that that's not the way to behave. You have to decide what the rules are in your family. Explain those to children and then explain that there will be consequences if the rules are broken. That's hard to do, but it's an essential part of being a parent.
At what age should I start to discipline my child?
Parents often wonder when you should start disciplining children, and it's important to understand that babies cannot be naughty, they cannot act deliberately to annoy parents even if it feels like it. But you can still introduce positive discipline in a very small way. If your baby pokes you in the eye, you take their hand and say "No, that hurts", or once they're toddling around, you can say "Don't touch" if they're going near the cooker. But it's really that very gentle introduction to discipline, and they really have to be a little bit older with language before you can begin to explain why things have to be a certain way, why some things hurt other people. It's really about three plus before children will actually understand all that.
What is the best way of disciplining a child?
The best way of disciplining a child is something called positive discipline. What that means is that you really need to look for the behaviors that please you in children and give those the most praise and attention. That sounds very easy, but it's actually hard to do and practice. In the real world parents often jump in when the child is misbehaving and give that all the attention. The message to children is, I'm misbehaving and doing all the things my mom doesn't like. That's when i get all the attention. So try to turn that around.
How do different styles of parenting affect discipline?
Different styles of parenting completely affect how a parent will discipline. They're usually known as permissive parenting, which is just wanting a quiet life and almost letting the child rule you. That sounds alright for children to begin with, but there's usually a point when they need and are asking for some boundaries to their behaviour. The opposite of that is authoritarian parenting, where you are just so desperate to stay in control that you're jumping on every small thing that a child does and are calling it naughty and telling them off. The ideal is the middle way, which is the assertive or positive discipline, where you are setting boundaries and you are telling a child what you expect, and there are certain limits to their behaviour. You are more of the time trying to praise them when they are behaving well. You're trying to be positive to them and give them lots of attention for the behaviour you like.
What is the difference between discipline and punishment?
The difference is huge. People get this terribly muddled up. Positive discipline doesn't need any punishments at all because once you've got the child wanting to please you and used to a lovely relationship with you, they want to keep it like that. The tiniest, just showing your displeasure, just saying, telling off really, is enough to keep things on track. Once you've got that positive relationship, you shouldn't need punishments at all. Punishments should be an absolute last resort in any discipline method.
Should I reward my child for good behaviour?
Rewards are one way that you can actually help children to behave well. You have to use them sparingly because you don't want your child to only behave well in order to get a reward. Having said that, adults respond better to the carrot than the stick, and it's better if you can set up something like a star chart or just promise your child if they behave in a certain way that they'll get a certain reward. You have to be careful because eventually children have to behave well because they feel they should, and to develop a conscience. They can't feel that the only reason they behave well is for reward, so it's also about patient explanations about why behaviour should be a certain way.
Should I smack my child when they are naughty?
I am very opposed to smacking and obviously parents will have their own views. I think there are lots of reasons why smacking's just not a useful form of discipline. First of all, the example you're giving your child, children learn so much by example, they copy everything adults do, and if you hit a child then don't be surprised if they go and hit a brother or sister or a friend at the nursery. Also, you don't hit another adult when you want to get your own way, so it's showing a lack of respect to a child if you treat them differently. The fact that they may have annoyed you and you smack them is really not respecting your child. But also, it just doesn't work. Parents say, "Oh, it stops them". Of course it stops them in their tracks at the time, but children don't learn what you want them to do instead. They actually need the patient explanations, the time consuming teaching for them to understand why a behavior is wrong and why you want them to do something else instead.
Do children learn from smacking?
Children learn, but they may learn a lesson you don't want them to learn from smacking. They may learn that big people hit smaller people to get their way, which is certainly not something that you want your children to learn. But the other thing that they might learn, is that they only behave well in order to avoid a punishment. As children grow up, that's not useful. They have to develop a conscience of their own. When your child's a teenager and out on their own, they have to behave well because they think it's right, not because they think you're coming in to punish them. So eventually, it's not a useful lesson.
Am I spoiling my child if I don't smack them?
Absolutely not, no. It's never spoiling a child to not to punish them. Spoiling is really a different situation altogether, where you're perhaps letting children never have boundaries and are never enforcing a boundary. But that's not the same as punishing, so you have to be careful not to just give way to everything children want, particularly if they are manipulating you by whining all the time in order to get what they want. That's what spoiling is about. But certainly it doesn't equate with smacking. There's no way there's any relationship between the two.
Is it legal to smack a child in the UK?
The law is quite complicated in relation to smacking. Parents are allowed to use reasonable chastisement of a child, but not if they leave a mark or a bruise or anything of that sort. Many child care organizations are campaigning for equal protection for children, which means that they would have exactly the same rights as adults so it would not be okay to hit a child, just in the same way that it's not okay to hit an adult.
Is it OK to shout at my child?
I personally don't believe shouting is particularly good for children. But in the real world, everybody is going to do it at some time. I'm absolutely sure I've done it myself. It's impossible to go through life in a saintly way without ever raising your voice, but small children don't like it, so it's better to do it as little as possible. In fact, you lose a child's attention and you lose your ability to get them to listen and do what you want by shouting. If you can keep your voice calm, and keep it quiet, they're actually much more likely to listen.
I feel guilty when I discipline my child, what should I do?
Lots of parents do feel guilty when they've either shouted at their child or just been a bit more harsh than they intended. Inevitably some of the time this is going to happen. I think what you need to do in that situation is say "sorry" to your child, which is a useful lesson for them that you can actually say you got it wrong, and then just try to move on and get on with the day and try to do things better.