Of all the views parents hold about child care, the strongest usually concern discipline. Most of them go along with whatever their own parents did, but others swing the opposite way and reject everything their parents did and adopt completely different attitudes.

Complicating matters are the couples who differ from each other in their views. This is perhaps the most damaging situation for the child because she becomes confused between loyalty to the individual parent, and not knowing which set of rules really applies. These children are likely to become extra

difficult, morose or insecure. It is vitally important therefore for parents to sort out their differences and present a united front for the child’s sake.

In general, however, there are three categories: those who believe discipline is the proper submission to authority; those who favour permissive and free self-expression; and in the middle, those who vacillate between the two extremes as the spirit takes them.

The old authoritarian approach succeeded in keeping reasonable order until the child was old enough or shrewd enough to escape its rule. It also kept the timid child suppressed and often alienated parent and child.

Advocates of the totally permissive regime, on the other hand, have been disappointed to find that it resulted in disaffected, directionless offspring, instead of fostering a healthy self-image and warmth between parents and child.

Those who vacillate between the two approaches probably make up the mass of parents, who, unsure of their ground, take whatever line suits them at the time.

How can we effectively direct our children so that they do not become demanding brats or mindless followers? The age-old dictum of doing unto others. . .’ has not lost its validity and like charity, it starts at home.

In the beginning applying this will be rather one-sided with you giving without any possible reciprocal consideration for your needs from your child. But you will be laying the foundation for future reciprocity.

This does not mean total self-sacrifice or becoming a slave to your child, but should be a non-egocentric approach that includes warmth and empathy. During the second year when the child’s own ego is developing there will be many occasions when your appreciation of the child’s feelings will make clashes easier to understand and, sometimes, prevent.

Understanding how she feels does not mean that you should always capitulate; it means judging a situation on its merits and acting reasonably. Respect for your child’s wishes and opinions will set her the example of working with instead of against people. If she has to throw a tantrum to get her needs recognised or whine to get your attention she will understandably keep doing it.

Too often the relationship between parent and child becomes one of a battle between two sides with one always the loser. No conflict between you should ever end with either side feeling defeated. Even if you cannot allow something, or you have had to reprimand her firmly, neither should end up with an ego so bruised that resentment builds up.

If you say no’ as seldom as possible, it will be all the more effective when you do say it. You will also be able to stick by your word more effectively so that you can be consistent. If you think about it you will see that most of what your toddler does is not malicious, but the natural exercising of her curiosity or testing of the limits you set.

Diversion is a good way of avoiding an unnecessary clash of wills, since a child has a short attention span and can easily be distracted. For example, supermarket tantrums are common. Yet you can avoid them by giving the situation a little thought. Your child sees you take anything you fancy from the shelves. She sees no reason why she should not do so as well, so why not pass things to her to put in the trolley? Talk to her about them and keep her occupied. If she spies something she likes she is going to want it. Either decide that she can have it quickly or keep her looking the other way when you pass a likely area -the toy or sweet shelves for instance. All you need to say is Oh, look at that’ and point to something distracting and she will be sure to look that way. It is playing dirty, but every mother is entitled to it sometimes – others call it strategy – or political expediency… If she is getting hungry, buy a few slices of cold meat and

let her chew on them. If you really intend buying those sticky sweets let her hold them, or give her one. Don’t think that if you are reasonable she will become more and more demanding. It is the attraction of forbidden fruit and the fact that you are unyielding that makes children determined to extract as much as they can out of a situation. However, if a situation warrants a firm no’, don’t hesitate to say it and follow through effectively. There is no need to be afraid of putting your foot down – limits beyond which your child may not go will give her a feeling of security and make sense out of what would otherwise be a topsy-turvy world. Do not make the mistake of thinking this means hitting your child. If you should happen to lose your self-control and smack her, take her in your arms as soon as you have cooled down, tell her you love her but that she made you very cross.

Remind her of what she did and tell her how strongly you feel about it. This way your child will not lose respect for you and her self-respect will be restored. It will make her want to get your approval because there will be no cause for resentment or mixed feelings about you. When called for, never put off discipline by waiting till you get home or threatening her with statements like wait till your father hears about this …’ A young child has no sense of deferment, and she will not even relate a delayed punishment to what she has done wrong earlier. You must be really quick off the mark if you want to be effective. There is no point in watching her do something you disapprove of for a while then saying stop it’, then repeating it if she continues, then going red in the face … until you eventually go blue in the face and slightly mad. You have got to make up your mind quickly. Do you or do you not want to allow something? If you do not, stop it instantly. The conviction in your voice should be sufficient to deter. If it is not, it is probably because you are not really sure of yourself.

Some situations need a quiet but watchful eye kept on them. If they develop the wrong way, jump in. Don’t shilly-shally-you’ll make a fool of yourself if you do and your children will take you for a ride. Of course, this is easier said than done! But as you gain experience and confidence as a parent you should be able to assess a situation much more quickly. Get in there, remove her physically if she doesn’t listen the first time. Ignore the embarrassing wails and flailing legs and very firmly and as calmly as possible insist that she stop the activity you object to, even if you have to isolate her from the company for a short while. Hitting, smacking, insults and brutality have no place in child rearing. They degrade the user and the child. But it is either a saint or a liar who will swear that she has never smacked her child in anger or frustration. The pressures on a mother are often unbearable and an occasional explosion will not harm. But the use of hidings or smacking as the means of discipline is damaging and self-defeating.

Humiliation breeds resentment and this will make her want to get you back’ rather than please you. And in the end this is the only real basis for a lasting and healthy relationship with your child, the kind of love that is based on mutual respect and caring, not fear and dependence.


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