Discipline is at the very top of Indian parents wishlist for their children. The definition of discipline varies widely, but everyone wants it. In general, there are some common facets of discipline that parents agree on - listening to parents, good manners, hard work etc., We have written extensively about some of these characteristics and how to help children develop them. But there are some elementary principles that parents can use to help their children develop discipline.
Bringing up a child is a long process. Sometimes it is simple, sometimes complex but it always take time. Discipline is about behaviour and behaviour takes time to develop or change. During this time we need a lot of patience and also must get used to repeating ourselves again and again. So the next time you decide to tell your child "to behave at the birthday party", don't expect an instant transformation.
Children learn by observing others. They do what others do. So if you expect a certain behaviour from your child, you should explain it to them clearly. This will give them an opportunity to ask you questions when they see others behaving differently. Stick to your stand but explain why to your child. Do not become upset with some aspect of a child's behaviour especially when you see it the first few times. Maybe they are behaving that way because they have not been told what the right way is.
Young children cannot think in terms of generalized rules. Most of the time, this means that they cannot take one instruction from you in one situation and apply it to another similar situation correctly.
For example, consider the typical piece of advice we give our children - "Wash your legs when you come back from school". That does not mean that they understand that dirty feet have to be washed. They may come from running around on the road, but they will not wash their dirty feet because they were not coming back from school!!.
You may instead say "Wash your legs when they are dirty". The next time they come home, they will assume that no matter where they went, if their legs appear clean, they do not have to wash them.
Only as children grow up do they start realizing the need for applying what they learn in one situation to another. In fact, when this moment happens, be happy because this is an important step in the development of the child's intelligence.
If you have laid down some rules, ensure that they are followed consistently. Enforce them every time. Young children in particular will get mixed messages about when they should follow rules and when they should not.
On the other hand, if you tell them beforehand that they can get a waiver on something, that is OK. For example, you may say, "Because we are starting our trip so early in the morning tomorrow, you need not drink your milk at home. We will drive for some time, stop on the way and get you milk when we have breakfast". In this case, the child understands that it was OK not to drink milk before leaving the house, because you were leaving so early.
Make sure both parents are enforcing the rules also. You do not want one parent becoming the "good" one and the other the "bad" one. Many of us also live in joint families or with other elders around. It should also be made clear to them as to what you expect from your child so they can also help.
Pick the battles you want to fight. If you try to enforce too much discipline, the child may become too obedient (even to others), or too rebellious as the numerous restrictions make things very stressful for them. If you are too loose, the child may not develop any discipline. Find a few things you want to focus on and strike a middle ground. Then over time, as the child matures, you can work on more areas.
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