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Discipline, the very word evokes mental images of cruel punishment, Dickensian-style. But, in a modern world of positive parenting, discipline can be  peaceful.

We offer some advice on how to discipline your child peacefully.

changing times, changing values

In the wake of a rebel breakaway generation of parents, 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, meaning  children are in child care for longer. Parents often compensate for a lack of quality time with their children by lavishing them with treats.

Clearly, 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 trying to figure out ways to escape from their (cute) little tyrants

When parents have been run ragged by their unruly children and are under all kinds of external pressure, the only way they know to bring back control tends to be the reflex reaction of  fear-based threats and violent punishments. 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 runs 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.

The idea is based on the principle that children are born innocent and good. The approach requires parents to break the habit of demanding obedience using threats and acts of punishment. Instead, they should work towards co-operation by regularly acknowledging the positive things children have done, and offering rewards as motivation to do more.

Read our article on dealing with children’s challenging behaviour

alternatives to harsh punishment

Gray presents 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” 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.

mindful rewards to motivate

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 can be meaningful like the promise of a story or special time together.

co-operation not control

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. If adults don’t create boundaries and structure, children find themselves having to make too many choices. This causes them to  disconnect from their natural willingness to co-operate and they become demanding, selfish, needy or just more resistant, Gray explains.

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  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  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 co-operative.

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.