How to discipline your child – part 3

How to discipline your child – part 3

We often hear how children are referred to as ‘little adults’. However, while our children deserve the same respect and love that any adult does, they are not adults… by a long shot.

    Young children live in a world that is very different from ours. While we live in our heads, in the past, in the future, making plans and negotiating our way through the social networks that we create, young children live completely in the present moment, guided primarily by their senses.

    They are engrossed in what is right in front of them, and they respond to their environment from moment to moment, as they take in the world through their bodies.




Pearl of Wisdom #3:

Understand your child’s world – make a real difference

Because children understand and react to the world in a way that is different to adults, it would only make sense that we meet them where they are. Otherwise, our attempts to discipline them could backfire in many ways.

Physically get your child’s attention

When disciplining and communicating with your young child, it is most effective to enter their world in a very physical way. By this, we mean that you need to help focus your child’s attention, so it makes sense to literally move into their personal space. Use your body to come down to their level so that you can look them in the eye as you speak. This helps them to focus on what you want to explain to them about their behaviour. You can even hold their hands or gently direct their face to look at you to emphasize your presence and the significance of the moment.

Talking to them from across the room will most likely not even register on their radar, as their world is made of primarily of what immediately surrounds them. See this first step as a moment of closeness and of sharing knowledge with them. The goal is not to intimidate – you are simply entering their space in order to get their full attention.

Act immediately to help them to form associations

Discipline is first and foremost a way of training. It’s about forming associations – positive behaviour with positive responses and negative behaviour with negative consequences. The best way in which to assist your child to form these helpful associations is by acting immediately.

Young children live in the present moment, not in five minutes time and definitely not ‘later when dad gets home’. In fact, if you want to teach your child not to climb onto the table, it is best to discipline your child when they are actually in the act or on the table. Or if you want to teach your child not to hit the dog, it is best to teach them when their hand is actually still on the dog! This helps them to form the association between their actual behaviour and negative consequence.

Similarly, when your child is doing something positive like sharing toys or food with you or somebody else, reward him immediately by whispering “way to share” in his ear or even just bestowing an approving nod and a smile on him.

React in a physical way

The result of living in the present moment, with mostly their immediate surroundings as their ‘only world’ for that time, is that it is only natural that young children learn through their bodies – steered by how things smell, look, feel, taste, sound and move.

They are still learning to understand the abstract social and moral concepts that adults adhere to. This is why discipline needs to be a physical experience for them.

Negative consequences have to be real: removing them from the table that they’re climbing, putting them in time out, or calmly but firmly removing a toy or a plate of food when a child is being destructive with it. Threats, arguments and accusations are not “real” to young children – from their point of reference, all that talking is just scary noise.

Teach in a physical way

Parenting is always easier when one focuses more on being more pro-active (thinking ahead) as opposed to being reactive. So, instead of waiting for your child to misbehave before jumping into action, show them ahead of time how you would like them to act and behave, by physically demonstrating what acceptable behaviour looks like.

Spend lots of time playing and doing everyday things with them: show them how to stroke the cat softly, or how to push their toy cars and make a ‘brrrr’ noise instead of throwing it out the front door (all the while using words to describe the experience).

Children are first-rate imitators and they truly flourish when they have something concrete to imitate. (One of the great things about having a Practica Programme in the house is that it makes it so much easier to pick age-appropriate games and create positive teaching opportunities at every age from birth to seven years of age.)

To summarize, when it comes to discipline for a young child under five, actions really do speak louder than words. Words alone will never effectively change their behaviour. Words are very important to decode your child’s experiences and help them to understand the detail of what is happening, but they are simply not effective without you physically getting your child’s full attention. This requires acting immediately, creating some kind of physical consequence that your child can associate with negative behaviour, and teaching and demonstrating appropriate behaviour in a real and physical way.

Words: Loren Stow


When we know better… we do better

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