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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 16-Dec-14 14:25:32

Guest post: Is there a 'right way' to discipline your child?

Disciplining children is notoriously difficult to negotiate - here, MN blogger Camilla Hill shares her various attempts to keep order, and says we all need to give ourselves a break

Camilla Hill

Word to your Mummy

Posted on: Tue 16-Dec-14 14:25:32


Lead photo

What kind of disciplinarian are you?

Today's parent keeps getting it wrong, or so parenting experts and the press would have us believe. If we're not being too indulgent and letting our kids run rings around us, then we're being too strict, creating a generation of obedient drones, incapable of original or independent thought.

‘The Village’ ostensibly required to raise a child is no more, and with our attention focussed on our smart phones and tablets, the current generation of parents are being accused of neglecting one of the most important parts of the job: discipline.

I've tried to be every type of disciplinarian, and I still can't get it right.

One of my most frequent guises is 'The Shamed'. It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are two certainties about motherhood - the guilt-tempered love that roots itself in the maternal heart, and the embarrassment that your existence causes them as soon as they start school. However, one thing I hadn't bargained for was the mortification my little ones can cause me.

As my son pronounces his dislike of ‘that man's baby tummy’ or his ‘yuckitty food’, or my daughter proudly scratches her nether regions in public, I feel my role diminish - and the only way of saving face is to retaliate with a suitable punishment.

This is part of the problem with discipline: it exists as much to preserve your parental standing in the eyes of others as it does to make sure your cherubs are raised with a sense of propriety and a good moral compass.

Think of the child being dragged kicking and screaming out of the supermarket – are you thinking about their behaviour, or are you judging the parent's mode of discipline? We discipline in order to diminish our own shame, and in turn we shame our children into behaving.

This is part of the problem with discipline: it exists as much to preserve your parental standing in the eyes of others as it does to make sure your cherubs are raised with a sense of propriety and a good moral compass.

Then there's 'The Permissive', another frequently adopted persona in my house. Picture this: You go to grab the blue sippy cup and your two-year-old says he wants the pink sippy cup. Give him his cup of choice and you are spoiling him and pandering to his demands. In other words, #massiveparentingfail. Never mind that it doesn't actually matter. Never mind that expressing a preference is a developmental milestone and shows creativity. Never mind all that, because the parents have RELENTED.

Maybe you decide to throw caution and parenting mantras to the wind, let your toddler assert their independence and hand over the pink cup. Do so at your peril, dear reader - stray too far into permissive parenting territory and, as I've found, it's a slippery slope to full-blown anarchy. If all your children want to do is eat Wotsits and chocolate buttons, well who the hell are you to stand in their way? Your just-about-teenager wants to have sex? Hell, just give them a thumbs up and a wink and you're done!

Pretty soon, all that listening and accounting for others' feelings, all that being kind and encouraging independent thinking, will turn you into a discipline-hating hippy with feral kids, and your home into Lord of the Flies.

Which brings us nicely to 'The Strict', which I think always sounds quite appealing in principal. Children thrive on routine and predictability; when your child understands not only the rules but the consequence of breaking them, it's easier for them to understand boundaries and anticipate your behaviour.

The down side is, you sound like a total fool as you make empty threats: ‘If. You. Don't. Behave. We. Will. Go. Home.’ You know full well that you're not going anywhere - you've just driven over 100 miles to Legoland and have already purchased your non-refundable tickets, so there, so you are not going to pack up, turn around and drive all the way back just to make a point.

The frustration of this situation - your powerlessness in the face of very expensive paddies - may well lead to the last of my discipline tribes, 'The Damned'.

This one creeps up on you. It's the day when you feel like all you've done is hoover up endless Cheerios, and you've ugly cried in front of your children. It's when everything becomes fuzzy at the edges and things just don't matter as much any more. Discipline oscillates between following ‘the Strict’ in the hope it will somehow have an impact, and bribing like a true Permissive. We have all been there, and, if you spot this parent in the street, all I would ask is that you be kind before you judge.

So, what can we conclude? Well, I've found that the discipline mantra that's served me best during my parenting career is ‘don't be a total knob’ - and it's a philosophy that applies to everyone in the bloody Village. Little Johnny hits someone for no good reason? Knob. A stranger shouts at my child in the supermarket because he's hopping around? Knob. Nobody gets it right all the time, but avoid Scotch bonnet chillies and you might just be on the road to success.

By Camilla Hill

Twitter: @Wordtoyourmummy

simone21 Tue 16-Dec-14 17:54:15

ashamed to admit that i ricochet between The Strict and The Permissive depending on the day!

Coyoacan Tue 16-Dec-14 18:00:55

This article touches on a problem all parents face, but is it just me, but I find this example quite strange. As my son pronounces his dislike of ‘that man's baby tummy’ or his ‘yuckitty food’, or my daughter proudly scratches her nether regions in public, I feel my role diminish - and the only way of saving face is to retaliate with a suitable punishment Mortifying as these situations are, I don't see anything to be punished.

apotatoprintinapeartree Tue 16-Dec-14 18:18:10

I also don't see discipline as a punishment type thing.
People learn through discipline, they are taught so anything from table manners, to talking in public, these are all disciplines.
Who would punish rather than teach?

ChoochiWoo Tue 16-Dec-14 19:17:22

Being a young parent I get this feeling a lot , and I do think shows like supernanny have a lot to answer for people have been given a false sense of having the right to question, put down parents with little though or insight, making an already tough job harder.

phoenixrose314 Tue 16-Dec-14 19:23:30

Having read multiple parenting books, especially those focusing on the child's mental health and psychological development, I have moved away from the traditional, Supernanny-approved ideals of Reward and Punishment, and try to simply explain, in as tangible terms as I can manage, why I don't approve of this behaviour or that action.

Studies show that children who are dangled carrots as rewards and given any form of love-withdrawal technique (which is essentially what Time Out is) don't actually have better behaviours as a result - they only behave, in fact, when they know there is reason to. "If I am good whilst we go shopping mummy will buy me a toy." Equally, by placing your child in a time out, especially when they are young, you are teaching them that there are conditions on your love and approval of them. It is psychologically damaging in the long-term, as the child then believes that mummy and daddy only love them when they are behaving in a manner that pleases them. Rather, the focus should be on the behaviour - therefore, a quiet chat telling them why that behaviour isn't okay (it upsets mummy, it is rude, etc) and what behaviour to replace it with is focusing on the actual problem at hand and gives the child an idea of how to handle a similar situation in the future.

Just my two cents.

LuannDelaney Tue 16-Dec-14 20:20:44

I agree with phoenixrose but also from observation, and common sense, children copy their role models so exhibiting behaviour that you would like to see mirrored back, including treating your children with the same respect that you would give to anybody is key. Then your children will respect themselves and others around them, and then discipline becomes a non issue.

katarbour Tue 16-Dec-14 20:30:24

So true... Great article. I have noted my own "different personas" of discipline, and while I hate to admit it, it's often dependent upon other things happening in my life (my mood, my physical health, something someone said to me that morning...) rather than a conscious decision to embrace one specific disciplinary ethos. I know the article is tongue-in-cheek, but I think it drives home the very important reminder that parents are human too, and some days we're just better at dealing with challenges than others. We also "choose our battles," and we don't always choose the right ones, nor do we always win. Thanks for the honesty, Ms Hill!

Iggly Tue 16-Dec-14 21:00:39

Sometimes I revert to time outs, and I say revert because I find them shitty, when dcs are being challenging and are hitting etc.

But I've found that if I give them time and space they will usually behave properly - no need to reprimand etc etc. Telling them off is usually when I need them to do something quickly and they don't!

BlueberryWafer Tue 16-Dec-14 21:48:54

Just place marking for tomorrow - too tired to write a reply tonight smile

HerrenaHarridan Tue 16-Dec-14 22:20:31

9 times out of 10 I think you can rationalise your way through a potential situation. Usually if your able to catch it before it gets our of hand.

Sometimes they are over tired etc and behave badly and you have to make sure there are consequences (which is sometimes a lot like punishment but is ALWAYS directly relevant)

I think it's ott to say that time out teaches your dc that your love is conditional. If your kids have a secure attachment I don't think it's a problem, probably for some kids with attachment issues it might be though.
Although I don't really use time outs I think they teach children that their behaviour is socially unacceptable and they will not be made welcome socially if they continue it. Which is basically how society works.

Usually it is enough for dd if I explain that ie "we don't hit our friends because it will hurt them and make then sad, they won't want to be your friend if you hurt them and make them sad"
Or if she was to hit me I would say I don't want to play with her right now because I feel hurt and sad and I don't like to play with people who make me feel hurt and sad.

If however it became a pattern of behaviour along with looking for the reason I would consider escalating the consequences/punishment ie leaving a friends house

Stewierocks Tue 16-Dec-14 22:51:19

Hmm - you seem to have missed out yelling banshee approach - when all else fails and you've been pushed beyond your limit you become an irrational yelling person who then does the ugly crying, the self-loathing, resignation to being a total and utter failure as a parent and has to be comforted by child. The banshee stage is usually reached having tried to do all the other approaches in succession to no avail and can only really be resolved by chocolate consumption. C'mon it's not just me that's done this surely.....not saying I make a habit of it but it's there!

ouryve Tue 16-Dec-14 22:58:36

Who would punish rather than teach?

Quite. Most situations are teachable. Even those that genuinely present a need for some "time out" (using the term loosely as that may include the toy that's been used to clonk little brother over the head being removed) because a big line has been crossed need some analysis and present a teaching and learning opportunity for both the child and the caregiver.

Children are entitled not to like a food, but a conversation needs to be had about appropriate ways to express that dislike, rather than just punishing them for being honest.

ouryve Tue 16-Dec-14 23:03:54

Iggly - I think that time out is fine if it serves a purpose i.e. I need you to go and sit on the sofa until we're able to talk about this without anyone shouting. Sometimes it's necessary to allow an adrenaline rush to die down (including ours, if we've just witnessed our beloved children gouging each other's eyes out in the middle of the road) before anything constructive can be said or done.

GobblersKnob Tue 16-Dec-14 23:14:14

I don't believe in any kind of 'discipline' in the sense it is meant here, i.e. punishment, totally pointless and completely unproductive.

apotatoprintinapeartree Tue 16-Dec-14 23:16:47


It doesn't work long term though so I don't do the shouting.
I don't mean that smugly btw, I did with ds1 and 2 when they were little, but know it doesn't work now so don't do it with dd.
Which has caused all sorts of problems as the older ones even at 23 and 20 can't see the reason I don't shout and think we treat her differently through favouritism, not purely because it doesn't work.
You just can't win sometimes.

Upandatem Wed 17-Dec-14 00:03:39

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

measles Wed 17-Dec-14 06:22:36

Great piece, spot-on. Love your parent categories, Ms Hill, very funny (and true!) Personally, I gave up on 'Shame' when my son first discovered his peanuts, and the joy of a public rummage. Now all about 'Strict' and empty threats. Yesterday, trying to get kids dressed for school, heard myself shouting, "I will cancel Christmas if you don't produce a sock".

Lweji Wed 17-Dec-14 07:06:16

Which brings us nicely to 'The Strict', which I think always sounds quite appealing in principal.
It doesn't appeal to me in principle and I don't think it would as the principal or main method of raising a child.

The right way, in my opinion, is adequate to the situation, to the behaviour and to the child.
Time out works when we just can't talk. When it's almost at tantrum stage or I'm almost at screaming banshee stage. It's followed by a hug and a quiet conversation about the behaviour.
No empty threats. And if I ever exaggerate the threat, I will back down and apologise. Apologies by a parent work very well as it shows appropriate behaviour. Because I'm not perfect and I don't pretend to be.
I don't often feel permissive about choosing cups. I often give that choice and do it as DS grows, within reason. Non-negotiable things are pointed out and the reason for them quickly explained.

Supernanny was not all about punishment and time out. That was for extreme behaviour. Mostly it was about engaging with the children and encouraging good behaviour. There was lots of start charts, family rules lists, modelling appropriate behaviour, losing and earning back toys, spending time together, etc.
I watched Supernanny and house of tiny tearaways even before DS was born and I think it made me a better parent, as I had time to think about it before I actually had to parent.

The OP feels very simplistic to me.
Ok, there is no right way of parenting and you'll always feel guilty or criticised, but if you think permissive and strict are the only alternatives, then I'm sorry for you and your child.
Not sure what you mean with "don't be a total knob". Where do you go with it? That was missing from the post. What do you do with the little knob who hits another child in the playground?

Lweji Wed 17-Dec-14 07:10:32

Star charts, not start, although the only time I used one it was a start chart, as DS struggled to grasp the concept and it was dumped after the first few attempts. smile

Chips1999 Wed 17-Dec-14 08:47:38

I agree with Stewie there's definitely a space there for the yelling banshee approach!

I'd love to say I never shout, but I do end up shouting at DS at times, reasoning doesn't always work with a two year old unfortunately! Not that shouting always works either, but I'm a human being and get things wrong too.

The best advice I got from an elderly relative on bringing up children was never to put them to bed on a bad note, end the day as nicely as you can and tomorrow is a fresh start.

OneHorseOpenSandwich Wed 17-Dec-14 09:03:41

I can recognise a lot in the OP.
I do agree that teaching should be the aim, but I do use time-outs, removal of a toy or other discipline methods when I just need something to stop (usually wrestling, repeated jumping and climbing etc).
People who don't use these methods and who are probably the sort of calm and rational parent I would love to be grin ..... What do you do when children just keep doing something despite having been told to stop, and the reasons why?

ouryve Wed 17-Dec-14 10:05:03

Change the pace, OneHorse. If a kid gets stuck in a rut with a behaviour, then find a way to nudge them out of it. It's often called distraction with younger kids, but it can work with older kids.

Mine both have ASD and can exhibit a lot of extreme challenging behaviour. DS1 was in a foul mood, last night and was shouty, snappy, rude and destructive and all set for a full scale meltdown/rage. I needed him to wrap a small present for his teacher and he refused point blank, at first, so I did the wrapping. He spotted the box of ribbon and was intrigued by it, so I showed him how to do ribbon curls and he spent the next half hour decorating the parcel - lots of sticky tape involved, which is always therapeutic for him. By bedtime, he had a very blingy parcel, a huge pile of cards written and was animatedly discussing Christmas dinners with him. It sounds like he was being rewarded for his behaviour, but he didn't have a lot of control over those negative feelings in the first place and people were no longer getting shouted at and things were no longer being destroyed.

Even for a lot of NT kids, a lot of unwelcome behaviour is because they can't work out what else to do at the time.

Madcatgirl Wed 17-Dec-14 10:27:55

My eldest has asd and sometimes he needs a timeout to regroup and collect himself. When he gets to the timeout stage he cannot be reasoned with or talked to.

We have a huge range of strategies to get through everyday, but the thing that would help most is if people weren't so judge when d's is having a bad day.

I gave resorted to being that screaming parent when I'm pushed beyond every reasonable limit, the days where every thing from getting up to going back to bed is a fight. We never go to bed angry thought, we always try and finish on a happy note and try again the day after.

This time of year is exhausting as there is so much on and it's exhausting, so Ds behaviour deteriorates and he is prone to more outbursts. We decided the year after next we're going away for Christmas to give us all a break and relax, which is what we need.

NoLongerJustAShopGirl Wed 17-Dec-14 10:42:30

there is another type of parent - the bloody lucky mummy.... I got good ones, they have been good from the start.

but... I have noticed that what I think of as ordinary, natural behaviour, gets thought of as something else by strict control freakish types...

DD14 is coming through and out the other side of hormonal nightmare of puberty- I went through it, it was natural, part of our genetic make up. She shouted from time to time, got ratty, left clothes on the floor, generally did not give a damn about anyone but herself.

I chose my battles - used the words "that is not acceptable behaviour" a bit, she became a Goth... (had all the "how can you let her dress like that" stuff... from people with different "standards"). She still dresses how she likes and we support that, but she has changed back again to our lovely young lady - ALL ON HER OWN...

Be there, be supportive, be understanding, have "the family phrase" for something which you find intolerable - "that is not acceptable behaviour" is ours - and has been since toddler days.

(But luck helps.)

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