Getting the balance right between love and discipline is much harder than it
sounds. Being a loving parent with firm discipline is learnt over time, often
through bitter experience. Giving in to our children’s demands can seem an easy
answer at first but we quickly learn that it leads to many more difficulties later on.
No one wants a spoilt child and you can never spoil a child with love or the time
you spend together. However, allowing children to have what they want, buying
expensive toys, always letting children win at games etc is the kind of adult
response, which tends to lead to behaviour that most of us would consider is
typical of a “spoilt” child.
The golden rule is to always decide if you can say YES before you say NO.
However, once, you have said No, you have to stick to your decision. Many
parents make the mistake of saying NO to children’s requests only to change
their minds later. Setting rules to stick to is usually much easier than simply saying
NO to children e.g. “We can only have sweets when we have finished our
Once you have explained the rule, you
can help your child to understand the
boundaries of your decision and make sure he understands any exceptions to
the rule and why they have happened. Most children understand that rules have
to be accepted and challenge them far less than they would statements from
Be positive – children learn from our approach – if we deal with things negatively
by saying “No you can’t…” we shouldn’t be surprised when they are negative
back. WHEN – THEN is a good strategy. Explain when she will be old enough to
do this for herself and help her to find a way around things until then e.g. When
you are 6, then you can…. Children usually accept clear reasons and time limits
more easily than a simple NO.
Children are pre-programmed to cry for what they want – that is how they told us
they were hungry as young babies. Tantrums are just an extension of this
behaviour. Stay calm and firm. Tantrums are attention grabbers and usually stop
quickly if a parent doesn’t hang about. Remember to reward and praise positive
behaviour – try hard to catch children being good.
Children need help to handle their emotions. They need to be encouraged to talk
about how they feel, to learn to label the emotions and begin to understand their
difficult feelings. With young children, puppets and drawing can be very effective
decide if you can say…
YES before you say NO
ways of getting an idea of how a child is feeling etc. However as a parent you
need to lead by example and talk about your feelings and how you deal with them.
Being firm does not mean that you can’t have fun or that your child will not be
happy. In fact the reverse is true, many children feel unloved if there are no rules
to govern their behaviour. However, the problem for many parents is what to do
when children refuse to co-operate. The removal of privileges is usually the most
common form of discipline used. To make this effective, some simple rules must
• The action you take must be treated as a consequence of the
misbehaviour. Appreciating that our behaviour has consequences is an
important stage in learning to take responsibility for our own behaviour, thinking
before we act and learning to respect authority. It is not simply a form of
punishment, it goes much deeper than that so the
consequence should be carefully linked to the behaviour e.g. a
child who repeatedly plays football in the house, when they
have been told not too, should have the ball removed for a set
period of time. On the first occasion (or for young children), a
short time period should be used which is stated at the time.
As a general rule, short time periods are more effective than
long bans because it is easier for the adult to stick to the ban
for a day than a week.
• The action must be appropriate for the child’s age. The younger the child,
the more immediate the consequence e.g. telling a two year old that something
won’t happen tomorrow is no use as the event is too far in the future. When it
happens it is too unconnected with the event to mean anything to the child. You
need to understand the level of maturity of your own child to know what will work
and what will not. For some 3 year olds the prospect that they cannot go to play
at a friend’s house in the afternoon is fine, but for others it is so far ahead that it
has no impact at all. To help remind yourself, keep a record of how immediate
the removal of privileges had to be, to be effective e.g. within 2 hours worked well
but over 3 hours, the impact was lost.
• Your actions must be consistent. To be consistent, the child must understand
the rule and the consequence of breaking the rule. If the rule is not broken but the
child has been annoying, then you cannot remove the privilege otherwise you
undermine yourself and the impact of your actions will be lessened. In that
instance you have to inform the child that their behaviour is unacceptable,
explain what the consequence of them continuing will be and that they have the
choice to stop or continue. It is very important that children realise that they made
the choice to continue behaving badly and that by doing so they chose to lose the
• You must be able to see the consequence through each time the rule is
broken. If you cannot, then do not use this consequence as the child will realise
that sometimes you say things and they happen and other times they don’t. That
kind of inconsistency stops children taking responsibility for their own behaviour
and tends to create whinging and whining because the child does not
understand when their behaviour is considered to be poor and when it is not.
T I P S B O X
• Be positive – say what children can do rather than what they can’t do
• Try to interpret events optimistically e.g. WHEN…THEN ….
• Be specific when you have to say NO and give a time-limit reason or refer to a
rule so that your NO is linked to a clear reason e.g. When you are 6 you
can… the rule is our family is… BUT be sure to stick to your rules!
• Be sure you have to say No before you do and then stick with your decision.
• If you get in an argument try to use MAYBE …AND e.g. maybe you do want
another sweet and it is almost tea time. This is less confrontational than
Maybe – but and is more final.
• Use “Broken Record” – just keep repeating what you have said to help you
stay firm to your decision.
• Praise and reward children for accepting what you say, for being reasonable
and for behaving well.
• Stay in control, speak calmly and if you think you are going to shout or lose
your temper sit down – it is very hard to be so cross when you are the same
height as the child – it is much easier when you tower over them.
• Pick battles you can win and avoid making any threats you can’t keep.
• Try to ask your child to do things in a way that assumes he will and then
move away to give him a chance to comply. Hovering increases the chance
that your child will try to defy you.
• Always reassure children that you love them – you just do not love their
behaviour at the moment!
By Denise Thornton
taken from Tumbletots