I am not an advocate of soft parenting. I believe strongly that children need effective guidance and discipline. But over the years I am beginning to realise that no child ever truly learned from being punished – you know the kind where we, as parents wade in and decide what ‘punishment’ to use. Such as grounding, isolation, humiliation, shouting or smacking.

Discipline means ‘to teach’

The word ‘discipline’ comes from the word ‘disciple’ – to teach. It is our job as parents to teach our children how to behave, not punish them so they behave out of fear when we are around. If punishment worked our prisons would be empty!

Children are very capable of learning from their behaviour and particularly learning from mistakes. However, if we shout and punish them we make them so resentful and angry that their own mistake pales into insignificance.

Shouting and punishments don’t work

Could you tell me, when did you last appreciate an adult shouting at you because you did something wrong? How you would feel if your boss hit you to ‘help you learn’? So why should our children be any different? Why should they feel that hitting and shouting is OK? If we give our children respect, they will treat us with respect. If we give them opportunities to learn, they will become independent, capable adults.

I am a strong believer in rules and routines and believe that sometimes children need time out to calm down. I also consider that natural consequences are the ideal way to teach our children the impact of their behaviour impact on themselves and others.

What are natural consequences?

  • If a child hurts someone they can make it up by doing something nice for that person
  • If a child refuses to eat their meal they get hungry
  • If a child won’t wear a coat or gloves they get cold
  • If they break something they don’t have it anymore or can use their own money to pay for a new one
  • If they lose their coat or item of school uniform they pay for a new one
  • If they run out of money, they can’t buy anything else, unless they earn more.
  • if they break something they do jobs to pay for the breakage
  • If they don’t put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, their clothes don’t get washed
  • If they jump in puddles in shoes they have to wear wet shoes
  • If they spill their drink on the carpet, they are only allowed drinks in the kitchen
  • If they create a huge fuss about turning off the TV then they don’t watch TV the next day.
  • If they draw on a wall, all their crayons get taken away
  • If they make a mess they clean it up
  • If they can’t play nicely then it is the end of the activity for them. (But not necessarily for others).
  • If they don’t get ready for bed without a fuss, then there will only be time for one story.
  • If they steal money from their parents there is only money for the cheapest value food.
  • If they lie, they may not be believed or trusted in the future.
  • If they lose their temper, they get time out to calm down.

Don’t rescue your child from ‘poor choices’

As parents, we often jump in to try and ‘save’ our children from learning from poor choices. We feel we are ‘bad’ parents if we let our children suffer the consequences of their behaviour. We are worried that other people will think we are uncaring. So we give them a biscuit if they are hungry. We carry their coat in case they are cold. We rush to the school with the item they have forgotten. We replace the mobile they lost. We tidy their bedroom.

And what do our children learn? That they don’t have to think for themselves. That they can have anything they want if they make enough fuss. That they are ‘victims’ who need to be rescued. And that is the lesson we teach them for future life.

Help your child make wise choices

We learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. If a child does not learn that money is limited, as an adult, they may get into debt. If a child does not learn to eat a healthy diet, as they grow up they may become overweight

Learning from natural consequences removes the need to punish a child. the lessons are far more meaningful, as they are more likely to be remembered. It’s useful if you can explain what will happen in advance. Then if your child makes a poor choice, allow them to experience the results. Don’t ever say ‘I told you that would happen. Instead, empathise with them, about how annoying the consequences are. This will help your child realise you are on their side, rather than the ‘baddie’ for punishing them.

Soon your child will start making wiser choices, without you needing to give them ‘random’ punishments.

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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