Discipline in Parenting

Ask a Child Therapist: Discipline in Parenting

As a new parent or carer, you’ll quickly learn there are many theories on disciplining children. Society encompasses a broad range of views, from strict disciplinarian approaches to relaxed laissez-faire styles. Finding the approach that works for your family is part of your parenting journey.

However, while theories provide a good framework, our best intentions often falter under time pressures and the chaos of busy lives. When this happens, it can help to hold onto these key principles: consistency and emotional calm from the carer will positively influence a child’s behaviour.


Key Principles for Effective Discipline

Children need us, as their parents or carers, to manage our own emotions and lives so that we can create and maintain boundaries that help them feel safe. A child who feels safe is more likely to behave well and need less enforcement of the rules.

While allowing children room for individual expression is important, the best way to encourage emotional stability is to help them understand the rules and where they stand. Learning rules is much easier if they are consistently applied. Think about how hard it is to stick to a rule if it keeps changing. Honesty and clarity also help: when we understand why a rule exists and its impact on others, we have a better chance of staying within the boundaries set for us.


Importance of Consistency and Emotional Calm

Communication is critical here. If parents or carers take the time to share their needs and listen to those of others in the family unit, children trust the adults in their lives and develop empathy. Crucially, they learn to see the family as a whole unit. They understand why their wishes and needs may be temporarily put on hold while someone else’s wishes and needs are met.

Children often have excellent instincts and can comprehend what is happening much earlier than they can articulate. They can understand complexities of tone and subtle emotional dynamics from an early age, and they are fundamentally social creatures wired to make connections with others. They will usually cooperate better if we discuss why we need them to do something or inform them about their safety.


Managing Difficult Situations

Unfortunately, our lives are often so hectic that we end up barking out orders. You can imagine it in yourself: if someone just says “no,” we are more likely to react defensively, and it can be the start of an argument. Whereas if someone says, “I’m starving at the moment, I’m just going to make this sandwich, and then I will help you do that,” or “That’s Ruby’s toy; it belongs to her, so we can’t just take it off her. We need to ask her first,” or whatever other explanation is necessary, there is a different tone. Over time, what we might call “discipline” will make sense to our children, and we can ask them to work with us towards a safe, happy family that functions well.

This approach does not mean an inability to set and use boundaries. There is a firm expectation that the family works as a unit and that the child participates in this, knowing and trusting that the adults involved have the best interests of everyone in mind.

Things can quickly go wrong even if boundaries exist. A tired or overwhelmed child who normally behaves well may reach a point where no reasoning is possible. In these situations, we need to remain calm and mediate the problem until the tiredness or the overwhelm is remedied, and then we can start asking them to cooperate again. At other points, things may slip out of balance in family life. Lack of time, emotional stress, and differences in approach between parents and carers are all common reasons for difficulties with boundaries and discipline. If a situation is causing any family member distress over a prolonged period, consider how to manage the situation. At this stage, an outside perspective from friends, relatives, or professionals can be helpful.

Seeking Help When Needed

For more on discipline and boundaries at each stage of a child’s life, ‘Saying No: Why It’s Important for You and Your Child’ by child psychotherapist Asha Phillips is a wonderful resource. This book examines the role of boundaries at each stage of a child’s life.


The Key Takeaway

Discipline is a controversial subject, but consistency and calm are key to helping your child’s behaviour.


External Links

  1. National Childbirth Trust (NCT):Learn more about child development https://www.nct.org.uk
  2. NHS Parenting Guide: For additional parenting advice, visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/support-and-services/parenting-guide/
  3. Child Mind Institute: Explore resources on child mental health at https://childmind.org
  4. Book by Asha Phillips: Learn more about ‘Saying No: Why It’s Important for You and Your Child’ 

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