No more one-tight slaps: smart parenting tactics for disciplining your child
Find the teachable moments and let the little things slide
There’s a scene in Aarya where Sushmita Sen slaps her daughter after she calls her a bitch. I would never have had the audacity to curse in proximity to my parents, forget at them. The fear of the thappad was very real growing up. Not only does her daughter throw a bigger fit after being dhapped but the mother feels bad about it.
Clearly, there have been some drastic changes in the methods of disciplining your child since we were kids.
Parents, teachers, educationists and psychologists all agree that the one-tight slap method isn’t giving the children anything other than emotional scarring they later use to make memes as adults. True story.
Methods are evolving when it comes to disciplining your child and we’re getting more rational and practical — using our words rather than our Bata chappal to get kids to behave.
“One of the things I ask parents is how do you teach your child? I don’t use the word ‘punish’. Punishment is not because you are mad at them, but because you want your child to learn different behaviour,” says psychiatrist Dr Syeda Ruksheda.
“How do you teach them not to touch a hot stove? When they’re putting their hand near the fire, are you rapping them on the wrists, screaming at them? Instead of thinking ‘How do I punish them?’, ask yourself, ‘How do I teach them not to do that again?
Change the definition in your own head, and you will automatically develop better methods.”
Therapist Ambika Mallah agrees that the first thing we need to do is change our perception of repercussions for bad or inappropriate behaviour. “A parent is a child’s first teacher. Hitting, screaming and shouting aren’t going to make someone learn something, because the child still doesn’t know what is wrong or what you want.”
Your methods have to adapt and grow as your child does to meet their needs and personalities. Here are some general techniques you should keep in mind:
Expert-recommended healthy strategies for disciplining your child
You’re a teacher, not a bully
Being the authoritative parent whose kids are too frightened to dare break curfew works at that moment, but think about how damaging that can be to your child’s self-esteem and your relationship with them.
If your child is running around with a scissor in their hands, you can’t just scold them, take the scissors away and call it a day. Explain to them why it’s dangerous, why you’re taking it away and the possible scary outcomes if something goes wrong.
“You don’t need too many details, a simple explanation of why you’re taking them away and how they could hurt someone or themselves. Tell them it’s your role as a parent to keep them safe so they understand you’re not taking away their joy but providing them with safety,” says Mallah.
When they understand the reason behind a request you’re making, they’re more likely to abide by it.
Keep realistic consequences and consistently follow through
You trusted your son enough to give him a credit card with a monthly allowance of ₹500. That first month itself, he blows up ₹1,200. Maybe he got caught up in the excitement of it all and went overboard, a second chance never hurt anyone.
Explain that you trust him enough to not only have the responsibility of a credit card but also be deserving of another try.
But if it happens again, there needs to be consequences. Take that privilege away. A month or two without an allowance and then returning that card will enable him to take responsibility for his actions but also receive those negative consequences for his behaviour.
You trusting him again will boost his self-esteem and want him to prove he’s deserving of another chance.
“Validation and encouragement when your child does something right are always great. But there also needs to be repercussions for misbehaviour, otherwise you end up encouraging it,” says Surat-based educationist Mamta Kothari about disciplining your child.
If you just keep threatening them with possible outcomes and never actually do any of it, you’re just slowly losing credibility. You want to be taken seriously as the parent.
“Oh, mama just says these things, it’ll pass. She won’t actually do anything.”
You have to ride out the temper tantrums
Imagine you get into a tense debate with your daughter over breaking curfew and staying out late with her buddies. She’ll yell at you for being a drill sergeant who never lets her do anything fun. You’ll scream at her for being disrespectful and rude. By the end of it, everyone’s frustrated and nothing comes of it. What has she learned?
Trying to communicate with them when you’re both tense and emotional is not going to work. “You enter flight or fight mode. The child’s brain isn’t comprehending anything else other than self-preservation and that of the ego,” says Kothari.
The experts advise letting them scream and shout all they want. If your child is young, let the temper tantrum finish all the way through. Once you reach that cool-off period, you can effectively communicate with each other.
Violence begets other violent behaviour
Your children are modelling your behaviour. In their experience, you spank them when they do something wrong or you want them to do what you want. That is the action and consequence that they learn.
“They adopt the same pattern,” says Mallah. “In time, you will get complaints from school saying your child is hitting another one because he is not giving him his chocolate. They have now learned that violence is a means to get your way”.
If a physical consequence is what you feel is necessary then Kothari suggests a quiet spot. Think of it as a time-out, but one that involves communication.
“You can say, ‘I want you to sit here and think about why Mama is upset with you. What could you have done differently?’ Then after those five or ten minutes are over, talk to them about it. If they still haven’t understood their punishment, you need to explain it to them in a way that they understand.”
People learn in different ways. Some are visual, others prefer talking it through and some need to see things in action. Figure out what their style of learning is and use it. It’s easier to get through to them on their level of understanding.
You are their first and most important role model
No matter what techniques you employ when disciplining your child or how well you think you’re doing, if you’re not practising what you preach, you’re going to fail. “Your children are always watching you, more than you think, especially now during the lockdown,” says Ruksheda.
Embody the kind of self-discipline you want your children to follow. For example, if you complain about your daughter not putting her wet towel in the laundry basket, you can’t be throwing yours in a corner of the room either.
Children learn the most by watching and listening to their parents and how they interact with each other, especially when they’re younger. If we want to raise children who are self-sufficient, confident and have self-discipline, we need to be following the same rules and guidelines.
You can have your list of non-negotiables
At the end of the day, you are the parent and they are the child. You can be flexible, understanding, empathetic and respectful, but you also have the final say on matters.
You have the right to create a list of things that just won’t fly. “This is your list of non-negotiables that should be clear from a young age. It could be no using of curse words in the house, clearing your plate after dinner, respecting the house help, always telling the truth. Anything that for you is an important principle,” says Kothari.
If this is broken or contested in any way, then you can take more stringent steps to disciplining your child. No phone or TV for three days, or another privilege taking away from them. These small consequences instil the right values and help your children grow into adults you would be proud of.