How to Discipline Your Children Peacefully

Many parents have rebelled against the harsh discipline of their childhood. But there are plenty of good reasons to take charge in a positive way
By Helena Kingwill

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In the wake of a rebel generation of parents, who have swung away from the old ways, a new wave of wild children is rocking the schools. Teachers today are all too familiar with children who have never been taught basic rules and boundaries. Children are growing up in different circumstances – parents work longer hours, which means that their children are in child care for longer periods, often resulting in lavish treats being dished out in an attempt to compensate for the lost time spent together.
Depression, drug and alcohol abuse are on the increase and traditional family values are changing. So how do we discipline in today’s world without reaching for the cane?
In a bid to keep their children ‘happy’, many parents avoid confrontation by allowing their offspring to get away with more and more, until they find themselves constantly trying to figure out ways to escape from these (cute) little tyrants who have taken over their lives and their homes.
When parents have been run ragged by their unruly children and are under all kinds of external pressures, the only way they know to bring back control tends to be the reflex reaction of the fear-based threats and violent punishments that were practiced on them. Sadly, this is exactly what they were trying to prevent in the first place by avoiding confrontation.
Positive Parenting
Karen Quail is a mother of two boys, a viola player, school teacher, counsellor and occasional foster parent. She developed a course for her Discipline for Peace workshops based on the positive parenting concepts described by John Gray in his book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, Children are from Heaven as well as from her own experiences.
The idea is based on the principle that children are born innocent and good. Her approach requires parents to break the habit of demanding obedience using threats and acts of punishment and work towards cooperation by regularly acknowledging the positive things they have done and offering rewards as motivation to do more.
Gray presents a set of alternatives to spanking, shaming and punishing, including new ways of asking. Instead of ordering, rewards are given and punishment and time-outs replace spanking. It is the opposite of the archaic thinking that one must “break the rebellious child’s spirit” in order to set them on the right path.
“Demanding obedience from your children numbs their inner will and disconnects them from their potential to create the life they are here to live,” says Gray.
Rewards are a basic energy exchange, like using a carrot-on-a-stick incentive rather than the stick to whip them into submission. Also, rewards do not have to be sweets. They can be the promise of a story or time together.
Although this may sound soft, the positive parenting approach does not compromise on control. Gray’s updated version of the old adage “spare the rod and spoil the child” is: “When a child forgets who’s boss, you spoil the child. Children need to play in the magical world of childhood without being responsible. In situations where adults are not creating boundaries and structure and children find themselves having to make too many choices, they disconnect from their natural willingness to cooperate and become demanding, selfish, needy or just more resistant,” he says.
Model Discipline
“Children learn from role models,” writes Gray, “not from lectures.” It doesn’t help to shout angrily at your children when they ignore your requests. “Our methods of discipline should model our values, not contradict them. We must ‘be the change we want’,” explains Quail.
Everyone makes mistakes, and children are quick to forgive when you apologise if you lose your temper once in a while. Finding a way to keep an even keel in order to keep things consistent and sane has to be a priority, at least until they are old enough to balance their own boats in stormy waters.
“Children come into this world with the ability to love their parents,” Gray writes, “however they learn to love themselves by the way they are treated by their parents and how their parents react when they make mistakes.”
Take Charge
It is quite normal for children to resist authority and to make mistakes. These are opportunities for learning and growing. It is up to the parents to use these opportunities positively.
Getting into the habit of praising and encouraging your children and taking note of the good things they do naturally encourages them to be more cooperative.
As a rule, Quail suggests one should aim to mention positive behaviour three times more than the negative. This may require a conscious effort to change an old pattern.
In this crazy chaotic world, self-containment and self-discipline are the greatest gifts you can give your child. Quail says that she can’t go from “Naught to Mama in 10 seconds,” so she makes sure she wakes up before her children and has a little time for her yoga and meditation before the day begins. Do whatever works for you.
Perhaps the challenge of having children is to grow up and take charge. It’s certainly mine.


Anonymous wrote 6 years 31 weeks ago

My 9 and 11 year old sons do not listen or obey me at all and constantly lie. They have even lied to school staff saying I beat them. I resorted to video and audio recording them. They were caught in lie after lie. After this confrontation, their behaviour has improved.

lyn wrote 7 years 44 weeks ago

I have the same problem. My 10 year old just does not listern to anything I ask him to do. I get out of control and start shouting at him because he just does not listen to me. How do I react to a child who refuses to listen to a word you say?

emu wrote 8 years 24 weeks ago

I hope it's not my fault my 3 year old daghter is out of control. She is such a loving and caring child but doesn't want to listen - keeps doing it again and again, screaming, crying, shouting, spitting and trying to push me. I don't know what to do about her behaviour and we are worried. Need advice pls.

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