A discussion with Judy Arnall, parent educator, author and speaker. In her book,
Discipline Without Distress, Judy offers 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children
without using time outs, spanking, punishment or bribery.
PC: What do you feel is a major mistake when parents discipline their child?
JA: There’s a tendency to forget that the purpose of discipline is to teach a child, not hurt a child.
PC: What is the emotion most parents have to cope with when a child is misbehaving?
JA: We’re dealing with our own anger or frustration. It’s sometimes hard to remember that we’re the models. We need to have the self-discipline to be the person we want our child to be.
PC: Is giving in – just to get some peace – sometimes okay?
JA: Stay with your ‘no’ and honour your own words. Live up to your own social, business and community commitments so your child will learn to mirror your dependable behaviour.
PC: Parents feel frustration and anger, too. Isn’t that to be expected?
JA: Of course it is. Good parents feel anger – but that’s when our adult control kicks in. We have to separate our anger from the discipline we are about to impose.
PC: Words can be weapons. Other than choosing the appropriate discipline, what words we use must be important.
JA: Exactly! It’s easier to watch what we say when we’re angry than to have to apologize later and try to make amends. Relationships are like glass; once broken, they’re hard to repair.
PC: You think punishments and bribes don’t work. So what does?
JA: It’s not easy, but we need to look past the behaviour and look for the underlying feeling that caused the behaviour. We sometimes relieve our own anger and disappointment by retaliating through inflecting punishment. But that’s more about how we feel than how the child feels. Parents need to be in control of themselves in order to concentrate on what the child is feeling. Getting to the core of the problem is not easy if you’re dealing with a child who is angry or fearful of you and the probable punishment that you may dole out. They can’t learn from the incident. A child’s relationship with the parents should be a teaching-love relationship, providing a safe and reliable harbour for the child. Not one filled with fear, dread and anger.
Age 0–1: Use substitution, redirection and distraction to change behaviour.
Toddlers: Stay with your ‘no.’ Set routines. Encourage. Use positive commands. Avoid negatives. Give attention. React to poor behaviour by restraining and removing from the environment.
Preschool: Stay with your ‘no.’ Get eye contact. Clarify your expectations. Introduce making choices between three things. Use a timer to set time limits. Tell stories with a moral. Actively listen. Give information. Pick your battles. Be generous with holding, hugs and cuddles. Be a role model.
School Aged: Stay with your ‘no.’ Ignore provocations. Plan ahead. Actively listen. Have family conferences. Spend time together. Re-evaluate limits. Use humour. Clarify expectations. Walk away from power struggles. Be a role model.
Tweens: Negotiate your ‘no.’ Reconsider the situation when there is new information. Remember that you may be the target, but it’s not really about you! Focus on the child’s strengths. Speak respectfully. Keep communication lines open. Respect privacy. Spend time together. Welcome their friends. Have a few clear rules. Be a role model.