Your guide to PARENTING
TO be good parents, we must put our children near the top of our 'to-do list' and spend time enjoying them.
When a child says, "I don't care", he or she is really saying, "I don't feel cared for". Cooperation comes from connection, and so if your child refuses to listen or care, you must start by rebuilding your relationship and rekindling family rituals.
We should also use our children as resources to solve their own problems. Remember — two heads are better than one. Instead of trying to figure out what needs to be done, ask your children for their input.
At the early toddler stage, which is children under two years old, it is normal for them to experiment with control of the physical world and exercise their own will versus that of others. Consequently, we should exhibit much tolerance.
Remove the child or the object with a firm "No", or another very brief verbal explanation such as, "No, hot", and direct the child to an alternative activity. We should supervise the child and ensure that the behaviour does not recur. These children are not mature enough to understand instructions or explanations.
For the late toddlers, ages 2 to 3 years, the struggle for mastery, independence and self-assertion occurs. The child's frustration with these limitations leads to temper outbursts, but that does not mean wilful defiance. We should have empathy, realising the meaning of these outbursts. When the child regains control, we should give some simple verbal explanation and reassurance. The child should be redirected to some other activity, preferably away from the scene of the tantrum.
Between ages 3-5 years, most children are able to accept reality and limitations, act in ways to obtain approval, and for their immediate needs be self-reliant. Your use of verbal rules should increase, but the child will still require supervision to carry through your directions.
Time out can be used if the child loses control. Approval and praise are the most powerful motivators for good behaviour. Lectures do not work well for this age group, so if a child marks the wall with crayons, use a time out to allow him or her to think about the misbehaviour, and then teach logical consequences — for example, take away the crayons and let the child clean up the mess.
THE CHALLENGING PRE-TEENS
For school-age children between 6 and 12 years, their increasing independence may lead to conflicts. They tend to act autonomously, choose their own activities and friends, and begin to recognise other sources of authority outside the home. Parents should continue to supervise, provide good behavioural models, set rules consistently, but allow the child to become increasingly autonomous. Note however that school-age children cannot always put reasoning and good judgement into practice.
Praise and approval should be used liberally to encourage good behaviour and growth into a more mature human being. The use of appropriate motivators should be encouraged; for example, buy a keen reader his or her favourite books. Here, acceptable means of discipline include withdrawal of privileges, teaching logical consequences and time out. Always remember — encouragement empowers. Do not attempt to get children to feel bad in order to behave better. Constantly tell them: "I believe in you, you can do this."
Teach children how to handle their conflicts instead of punishing. When one child says, "He pushed me", you should ask, "Did you like it?" The child is likely to say, "No". At this point you can say, "Go tell your brother, 'I don't like it when you push me'." Use these episodes as a way to teach assertiveness skills to your children.
SURVIVING THOSE TEENAGE YEARS
For adolescents, ages 13 - 18 years, conflicts frequently ensue because they stick increasingly to a peer group, challenge family values and rules, and distance themselves from parents. Parents can meet these challenges by setting basic rules in a non-critical way, not belittling, and avoiding lectures or predicting catastrophes for the teenager. Making 'contracts' with the adolescent is also a useful tool.
Despite their challenging attitudes and declarations of independence, many teenagers subconsciously want parental guidance and approval. Parents should ensure that logical consequences occur — if the teenager defiantly takes the car and has an accident, the logical consequence would be that there is no car to drive and that he has to help pay for the repairs. This teaches accountability.
OUR ROLE AS PARENTS
Discipline is about changing behaviour and not about punishing children. As parents, we must discipline ourselves first and our children second. Take a deep breath, calm yourself, and be a STAR - Smile, Take a deep breath, And Relax.
Become the person you want your child to be.
Derrick Aarons MD, PhD is a consultant bioethicist/family physician, a specialist in ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research, and is a member of the Executive Council of RedBioetica UNESCO.