Tough Love

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Want your little brat to be an obedient, well-mannered child? Spending time with your kids can help you figure out the best disciplining practices for them. We speak to child educators and mums and comes up with a few strategies you can follow to avoid stepping on parenting landmines

Any good parent will tell you this—if you do not have a good rapport with your kids, you are not going to be able to raise them effectively. A good rapport implies spending time with them and being involved to some level during their play time, study and outings with the family or other members. Disciplining or getting the child to behave in a socially appropriate manner and give due respect to adults and other children, is something all parents have to work on. Every child is an individual, and the parent must know what works best for the child.

Reva Mallik, educator at Prakriya Green Wisdom School in Bangalore, says, “In the modern scenario, adults take disciplining too seriously, and in the process create a greater distance between the child and themselves. So there’s a chance that either good habits will form or the child might develop an aversion to them.”

While the intention is to inculcate self-discipline, we end up enforcing discipline from the outside. “If we are able to maintain a balance between inner (self-discipline) and outer (how and what we tell the child) discipline, the child grows up with a healthy sense of self, as well as sufficient security and trust that the external boundaries provide him/her at that tender age,” she explains.

Dr Shekhar Seshadri, child psychiatrist at NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) in Bangalore, puts it succinctly, “You cannot have discipline without love—both go hand in hand. You need to put in that extra effort to be a positive influence in their lives.”

Here are seven parenting strategies that will help you raise well-behaved kids. Children, rather intuitively, know the difference between right and wrong from a very young age. They imitate their parents and absorb nuances from parental behaviour and responses that are socially acceptable. But if you have a defiant child, one that typically throws tantrums or refuses to comply, then you need to pay more attention.

1 MAKE SPECIAL TIME

This could be 15 to 20 minutes every day, when you watch and observe your child as he plays or indulges in any activity. The hardest part for you as a parent at this time is ensuring that there are no distractions—you can’t chat and complete unfinished office work on your cellphone simultaneously—and no corrections. No intrusive questions or advice. At the most, if you’re watching him play throw ball, you can quietly mutter, “Nice shot”.

Authors Russell Barkley and Christine Benton of ‘Your Defiant Child’ say, “Start earning peace and co-operation with praise so that the child seeks you out more than you do, and you get more hugs than scowls. The most important benefit from positive attention is the rebuilding of a long, close relationship based on trust and love as the foundation.” Spending 20 minutes every day with your child without an agenda will get your child to trust you closely.

2 PRACTISE AS YOU PREACH

A little boy struck his little sister when she did not return his toy. As his sister started crying, his mum gave him a tight whack and said, “I told you never to hit your little sister, didn’t I?” Children learn through imitation. In fact, research shows that children pick up 80 per cent of behaviour through non-verbal communication. “If you have a child that screeches at you when angry, there may have been times when you, as a parent, would have done the same with him,” says Roohi Patel, filmmaker and mum. “It is important to remain calm and listen to the problem before shouting.”

“Monitoring your child as he plays by himself or with his friends also pays off,” says Rupali Guha, a producer from Mumbai. “A lot of aggression can come from playing too many video games/DS/Nintendo. When it’s late, we suddenly ask kids to switch off the TV/game and do their homework. This switch off and on creates confusion and frustration. We need to set timetables for him to play, and then offer a special treat or an extra hour of playtime during weekends.”

3 SET BOUNDARIES

Parents must set clear boundaries for their children from a young age. Setting a timetable helps. For instance, for children between the ages of five and eight years, wake up time during school can be 6.30 am and wake up time during a holiday can be 7.30 am. Television watching can be restricted to a maximum of one hour. On weekends, this can be extended to two hours, where the child can watch an age-appropriate movie of his choice. Older kids can be given chores to do at home, like picking up after dinner. These will help mum tidy up and help the family bond. Family outings (not to a mall or movie) should be planned. For teenage children, certain non-negotiable rules are necessary so that their safety is ensured. Dr Seshadri says, “If a child is too defiant, create a once-in-a-month ritual of visiting an orphanage, where your child can see how other people or children behave. This will give them a larger perspective on life and the world around them.”

4 BE ACCOUNTABLE

Dr Aloma Loba, mother of six children, three biological and three adopted, says, “Children feel secure and loved when there are boundaries or a timetable, or when they are made accountable for their actions. It makes children feel that their parents care about them. We never believed in bribes as they imply that the parent has a weak case, or that you have to trade or bargain good behaviour in exchange for something that the child wants.” Bribes can have an adverse effect once the child is older, setting the basis for a bad habit. “Instead, a reward in the way of a special mention or a treat with both or one parent is what we work with,” says Aloma. “Bad behaviour in children, who are old enough to understand, must have consequences. They must feel accountable for good or bad behaviour. I do not believe in spanking a child, but a tap on the wrist or the behind and an explanation—‘I do this so that you will not forget and because I love you’—is okay sometimes.”

5 STAY CONSISTENT WITH REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS

Many parents I know, including myself, find that the system of reward and praise works very well with children. So much so that punishment may not be required. Rupali Guha recalls that raising her first born was very different from her second. “For our first born, my husband and I set the rules. But when my second child was born, there were four people including me, my husband, my elder daughter and my maid. So my son was getting a lot of don’ts, and then a lot of chocolates later. Once we noticed the lack of consistency and multiple parenting happening we decided to correct ourselves.”

The authors of ‘Your Defiant Child’ propose using a reward system with poker chips for children aged 6 to 12. For older kids, the chips translate to money, which they can give their parents and buy something that they want in exchange for good behaviour. Parents need to sit down with their kids and list privileges they want—from small ones like watching TV and going out to play with friends to big ones like having their best friend over for a sleepover or going to an amusement park. Usually, these methods last for about three to four weeks before bad behaviour can return. It’s at this time that the parent might need to use punishment—as simple as getting the child to sit on a chair for five minutes. Dr Phil of Oprah fame warns, “It’s crucial that your child knows that you’re going to do what you say you will. If you explain what a punishment will be and then don’t act on it, you will have less credibility the next time. Make a commitment to your child’s discipline, and be consistent in your behaviour towards them.”

6 HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

Dr Mukta Sachdev from Manipal Hospital, says, “Children are individuals. I learnt, after much protest from my then 12-year-old son, that it was a bad idea to pressure him to do anything just because other children his age were doing it. This pressure can lead to a lot of rebellion. After I realised this, I built a relationship with my son by listening to him and explaining to him my expectations, rules and boundaries and then discussing what works best for both of us. Some of the issues, such as his safety, are non-negotiable.” When a child is young, parents must ensure that they ask their child for behaviour that is within his or her reach or your child may end up frustrated.

7 RESPECT YOUR CHILD

Reva Mallik, who has years of experience handling little children from play group to nursery, says, “It is important that you respect your child and her intelligence from the very beginning. Offer your child the treatment that you would like to receive. Children are very sharp when it comes to sensing equality and respond positively to it. And the experience becomes gratifying for both, the child and the parent. Tricks, bribes, spanking—would you like these being done to you? We’re talking about an individual with feelings and emotions. We are not programming a computer or setting an alarm clock. The human brain is very complex. It interprets things in many ways. Young children have limited articulation and their resistance or disobedience is one way of telling us that something is wrong. We, as adults, need to be in touch with their needs and their world.” She adds that persistent or continued disobedience would require detailed intervention, which should be done as early as possible. But, most of the time, it’s not the child but parents or other adults around him who need help. The best strategy is to look back on the way you were brought up by your parents, the timeout or punishment meted out to you, and the simple joys or privileges you enjoyed as a child. Adopt those if they can make a difference to your life and that of your child’s. If you led a fairly disciplined life, and are a fairly disciplined adult, then chances are, you will pass that on to your children. Just remember to begin the process with faith and trust. Don’t mistrust your parenting abilities either. Discipline is picked up along the way and we have to follow a certain discipline ourselves before making our child follow it.

ADHD OR ADD

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is a common behavioural disorder that affects an estimated 8 to 10 per cent of school children. Boys are about three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with it, though it’s not yet understood why. Kids with ADHD act without thinking, are hyperactive and have trouble focussing. They also can’t sit still or pay attention to details. Of course, all kids, especially younger ones till about eight years or so, act this way at times, particularly when they are anxious or excited. But the difference in children with ADHD is that symptoms are present over a longer period of time and occur in different settings. They impair a child’s ability to function socially, academically and at home.

The good news is that with proper treatment and parenting effort, kids with ADHD can live with and manage their symptoms. If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD and is on medication, you can help by doing the following.

• Create a routine and get organised.
• Avoid distractions (turn off the TV, radio and computer games when your child is doing homework).
• Limit choices (offer a choice between two things—this toy or that—so that the child is not overwhelmed or over-stimulated).
• Change your interactions with your child; instead of long-winded explanations and cajoling, use clear
and brief directions to remind your child of his/her responsiblities.
• Instead of yelling or spanking, use timeouts or removal of privileges as consequences of inappropriate behaviour. It’s more effective.
• Help your child discover a talent. Children need to experience success to feel good about themselves. Finding out what your child does well, whether it is sports, music or art, will boost their social skills and self-esteem.

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