Undesirable behaviours sometimes exasperate the best of us. And we can respond with emotions rather than coolly and in the best interests of the child, which is why the experts advise us to “guide, not punish“, especially when it comes to dealing with young children.
We also live in a relatively more enlightened era…with much research to guide our thinking and behaviours. With that in mind, here are a few useful tips for parents:
1. Spare the rod, but don’t spoil the child
A recent study suggests that parents should discipline their children, but this does not necessarily entail spanking. Researchers in this study videotaped parents who spanked their children at home and found that parents were more often motivated by impulse or their emotions than using spanking as intentional discipline. In fact, most spanking incidents were in response to minor wrongs, and children typically misbehaved within 10 minutes of the spanking.
Moreover, a recently published meta-analysis of spanking studies reveals that the more children were spanked, the more likely they were to defy their parents. These children were also more likely to display anti-social behaviours, aggression, mental health problems, and cognitive difficulties. So, it could be better to focus on being consistent and on providing opportunities to reward good behaviours.
2. Positive endings good, sad endings bad
Every story usually has a lesson to learn. The moral of the story about The Hare and The Tortoise is that being persistent wins the race. Recent research has revealed that children learn best from stories which have a good ending. A recent study has found that children respond more positively to a moral story which promotes honesty than one which warns them about the consequences of dishonesty.
3. Avoid threats to help children tell the truth
A recent study in which children were told not to peek at a toy behind them but given the opportunity to peek (when the researcher went out of the room), finds that children are less likely to own up that they peeked if they were afraid of being punished. In contrast, children were more likely to tell the truth to please the adult (especially younger children) or to do the “right thing” (especially older children). So, it seems that threatening children with punishment is not the way to get them to come clean.
4. Use time-outs appropriately
A 2015 study reveals that if you want your toddler to stop doing something irritating immediately, the best action is to offer him or her a compromise. But this strategy, used often, will likely lead to more undesirable behaviours. Instead, the most effective way to deal with whining, negotiating and hitting involves reasoning with your toddler. Punishments like time-outs are only effective in curbing defiant toddlers, but they don’t work on every child. According to the researchers, this is because parents tend to use time-outs only after toddlers have misbehaved. In contrast, time-outs and other punishments are effective if parents tell their children ahead of time which behaviours result in a time-out or punishment, and apply them when the child misbehaves.
If only rearing children were as easy as knitting…