There is no such thing as ‘discipline’; it is behavior management or modification. Because discipline is fixed, like in the army, but behavior can vary and with it varies the methods of handling deviant behavior.  The problem is that as adults we follow a strict policy with kids that say,’ Do as we say, not as we do’, and we forget that kids learn by imitation!  So you can see mothers and teachers shouting at their kids and asking them to ‘be quiet’!

Yet another myth- Patience. You can’t have patience with kids, should not have, as there is no such thing as patience.  Patience implies that you are ‘bearing with’ someone, instead of basing your discipline on patience base it on understanding, because in patience you will control the child instead of guiding the child.  So stop telling yourself, I need to be patient with my child, instead of say have I understood what the child is actually trying to tell me with the behavior?  Usually, kids have lots to tell you but do not have the supportive language development and so their boredom, frustration, anger comes out in behavioral problems.  Show them a socially accepted avenue to show their anger and frustration, don’t stop them from experiencing these emotions, use sentences like,’ I know you are angry because I did not give you the toy, but instead of beating me, you can beat the pillow’.

Don’t react to kids misbehavior with your own, oh yes it happens. Let me tell you about this mother and child I watched at the check-in terminal of an airport (the best place that I watch kids interact with their parents!) a mother sitting in front of me had her 3-year-old son sitting facing her on her lap.  Both of them were engrossed in a beautiful interaction and bonding by singing nursery rhymes that the child must have learned in his playschool.  The mother’s mobile phone rang and mid-sentence she picked up her cell and started talking to the other person.  I could see the child’s face was disappointed, but the child waited patiently for a full minute (a long time in a toddler’s world!), then started nudging the mother, ‘mummy’, ‘mummy’, mummy’ he went on quietly and patiently.  No response from mummy, she was happily ignoring the child and chatting on the phone.  Exasperated and irritated, the child caught hold of the mother’s chin and said, ‘mummy chalo na’, mummy just shook her head and carried on, to which; to my utter amazement, the child slapped the mother!  In reaction to which, to my utter horror, the mother slapped the child and the child starting bawling.  Mother embarrassed, switched off the phone, and started cajoling the child, ‘I am so sorry beta’ etc., out of guilt and embarrassment.  The child refused to stop crying only increased the octaves of screaming!  She bought a bar of chocolate for the child and pacified the child.

So what went wrong in this beautiful interaction that was on between mother and child?  How did a lovely singing bond end in this ‘free for all’?

Simple, the mother did not show respect for the child, when the mobile phone rang she should have either completed the song that they were singing and then picked up the phone or should have excused herself and told the child, I will take this call and then we will continue.  And she should have known to recognize the signs of ‘final frustration’ that kids exhibit, which is ‘holding your chin and making you look at them’ when kids do this, they are serious, serious about throwing a full-blown tantrum!  The final mistake she made she answered a slap with a slap, isn’t that ‘do as we say and not as we do’?  If we are telling kids that they must not hit when they are angry, then how can we hit when we are angry?  And then, buying a bar of chocolate to pacify the child?  Materialistic parenting, a no-no for the healthy development of kids.

So respect children and watch for the impending signs of tantrums and misbehavior. Catch them being good instead of punishing them when bad.

Children in the first 6 years lack impulse control, which is why without thinking the little boy slapped his mother. Impulse control comes with the development of the prefrontal cortex, so the more the prefrontal cortex develops, the better will be the logic, reasoning, attention, and focus in children.  Play games to develop impulse control, simple games like ‘Simon says’, ‘red light, green light’, all develop impulse control.  For example, in ‘Simon says’, the child has to concentrate and wait for the word ‘Simon’ to do the action, so he controls his impulse to do the action until he hears the word.

Punishment is a strict no-no, that is, a traditional method, we need guidance, show the child where he went wrong and what he should have done instead- The difference between the two approaches is that traditional discipline criticizes children- often publicly- for unacceptable behaviors whereas guidance teaches children positive alternatives, what they can do instead.  

In today’s world, teachers and mothers need to be leaders and not bosses.  In Piaget’s words, they must work for the goal of ‘autonomy’ (intelligent and ethical decision making) rather than obedience.

According to behavioral expert and author, “ANNE COPLEY”, there are four zones that you should look out for in kid’s behavior-

  1. Safe zone – when children feel wanted, secure, loved, their needs are met, they function in a safe zone and such children are happy, well adjusted, and well behaved.
  2. Learning zone – when children experience safe zone, they are able to learn, explore, be creative, make decisions, choose, focus, and this is the learning zone, they will be smarter and learn more.
  3. Anxiety zone – children who do not feel safe, secure, wanted, and reassured are in the anxiety zone. Anxiety leads to irritation, frustration, and anger.  It is in this zone that they will start sending out signs and signals that tell you they are about to ‘let all hell loose’!
  4. Stress zone – when you are unable to read those signs and give them the required reassurance, help, guidance, they move into the stress zone, where all hell breaks loose.

It takes a lot of effort, learning, unlearning, guidance, love, time to bring a child from the stress zone to the safe zone. So, ideally keep them in the safe and learning zone and never reach the anxiety zone.