| 1.5°C Dublin

Disciplining kids is a hot issue for all parents, but they need some respect

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has revealed that he once punished his daughter for being disrespectful by rubbing chilli on slices of apple that she was going to eat.

A silly prank meant as a joke, perhaps, but the broader issue of how to discipline a child is no laughing matter.

We all know that kids can sometimes try the patience of a saint - any parent whose toddler has had a meltdown in a packed supermarket will attest to that. The challenge we face is how to cope and keep cool when we feel like throwing a tantrum ourselves because we're so frazzled.

In the past, it was common for parents to wash out their kids' mouths with soap or send them to bed without any supper when they misbehaved. It was also normal for parents to give kids a clip around the ear or a smack with a wooden spoon, all in an attempt to keep them in check.

smacking

These days, most people no longer consider smacking a reasonable way to discipline a child, but the fact remains that it still happens.

People who advocate it argue that the odd smack never harmed them when they were young and that it teaches children manners. I completely disagree.

Most parents who resort to smacking do so because they're frustrated and at the end of their tether. It's not necessarily because of something a child has done, it often has more to do with a parent's stress levels.

As a discipline tool, it's woefully ineffective in the long term. Ask a child why he has been slapped and chances are he won't know. He will remember being hit, yes, but not the reason for it, just that Mum or Dad was angry.

Kids learn right and wrong from their parents. If you hit them, then naturally they're going to think it's perfectly fine to hit someone else smaller and more vulnerable too.

You're teaching them that hitting and not communicating is how to handle conflict. Not a helpful life lesson.

There are far better ways to teach good behaviour habits. When my children were little, the naughty step was very much in vogue.

While it was better than slapping, I found that this method didn't necessarily encourage good behaviour either. What worked best, for me at least, was the old-fashioned star chart.

Being helpful and kind to others was rewarded with a big gold star and a certain number of these warranted a trip to the zoo or the cinema or just an extra story at bedtime. The system wasn't perfect, nothing ever is, but on the whole it worked incredibly well.

It all boils down to the fact that positive reinforcement is the best way to teach a child how to behave well. Praising children when they do something right works far better than telling them off when they don't.

praise

Kids really blossom when they're praised, much like adults do. Think about it - we all try to cooperate with and please those who treat us with respect and humanity, not those who shout - or hit us - for every small infraction.

The ISPCC advises to 'think before you smack' and this really is the best advice. If you step away and take a deep breath, even for a few seconds, the urge to lash out abates.

Not slapping doesn't mean that you're some sort of New Age softie who's spoiling your children. It just means you are positively disciplining them by modelling the sort of behaviour you want them to imitate, which is a far better plan.

There's no doubt that parenting can be tough. The hours are long and the workload is relentless. But that doesn't mean that we have the right to treat our children with less respect than we would anyone else.

We are the adults, and we owe it to them to act accordingly.


Privacy