How do you discipline your child?
I’ve always contemplated much about this topic. Like other parents, I want to raise good children well. I want to raise children who have internal motivation to be self-disciplined, morally sound, have good self-esteem, and are equipped with life skills. But I didn’t know how.
Growing up I had issues with how I perceived my own experience of what “discipline” meant. I equated discipline as punishment. The word “discipline” conjured fear-based concepts that children are meant to be seen and not heard, children are made to feel small before they have the right to adulthood, and children are to obey authority without questions. These all felt punitive and hurtful.
At the same time, I have seen the damage of over-indulgent and permissive parenting styles that I disagree with equally.
I always wondered how to strike a balance between being too strict or too lenient. Can the concept of effective disciplining be both kind and firm?
The answer is yes. I found the answers and techniques in Dr Jane Nelson’s guidelines of what she termed Positive Discipline.
What is Positive Discipline?
“Oh, that Western-centric thing…” sneered a friend when I mentioned the term. It was a remark of distrust in a system that may not align with Eastern values (specifically Islamic ones), that perhaps it was a permissive parenting approach.
Some, on the other hand, may interpret Positive Discipline as a punishment method done positively.
Both interpretations are off. Positive Discipline is neither permissive nor punitive, and it is NOT about punishment.
Positive Discipline is a paradigm shift. It is an approach that replaces punishment with solution-based strategies that respectfully involves the children as active participants in finding solutions (not merely receivers of them).
Positive Discipline will teach and meet these four essential criteria:
- Kind and Firm
- It helps children feel a sense of belonging.
- Effective long-term
- It helps children learn valuable life skills, problem-solving skills, thinking skills, and contribution skills.
Why Positive Discipline?
As a parent of three, all under ten years old, I have found Positive Discipline Guidelines effective in the four criteria mentioned.
I also feel that Positive Discipline aligns with Islamic teachings of kindness, respect, and compassion. I find it a nurturing disciplining method that provides mutual respect for the entire family. Several Muslim educators find this disciplining approach complimenting Islamic values as well. You may find certified Muslim educators like Zuliat Lawal [Click here] using Positive Discipline methods in her Islamic parenting guidelines.
Studies have also shown the effectiveness of this disciplined approach. The Positive Discipline website [Click here] made references to studies that noted not only children’s improved behaviour but the adults’ too. In this article [Click here], Forbes also highlighted how Positive Discipline successfully improved disciplinary problems of a school and suggested businesses take lessons from it.
If there are better alternatives to child discipline from what we have previously known, I welcome such teachings. In Dr Jane Nelson’s own words:
“If you could find some other methods that would help your children learn life skills, self-discipline, and problem-solving skills without spanking, wouldn’t you rather do that?”
3 Foundational Positive Discipline Guidelines
According to Zuliat Lawal, there are 52 Positive Discipline Guidelines, but I will only focus on three here. While Dr Jane Nelson has published numerous books under the umbrella of Positive Discipline, addressing discipline tools for children of all ages, I will highlight the three essential ones that have served our family.
These three guidelines are sufficient as building blocks for those new to parenting or for parents who are in a phase of trying different methods out to see what works. These guidelines are not the only tools to be practised, but I find them suitable building blocks to a solid foundation.
Discipline is one of the most challenging parts of parenting, so do start slow. Focus on one guideline at a time, familiarise yourself with them individually, and enjoy the process while at it. It is not a one-off method, so be patient and keep at it. Once you feel confident and see progress with these three tips, feel free to learn more and apply other Positive Discipline guidelines to your home.
Guideline 1: Spend Special Time Being with Them
“Connection before correction” is an important concept of Positive Discipline. Before any correction can be made, you must first connect with your children.
There must be a dedicated time scheduled and devoted for your children. “Special time” here means being present and engaged with your child doing fun things she likes. If you have more than one child, you must make room for a special time for each, separately.
Some parents may find this absurd and an unnecessary gesture. Why would you need a “special time” when you are always with them? All your children know that you love them, right?
But how many of us adults feel disconnected from our loved ones when there is no special time created for that relationship?
These regular special times does wonder for anyone, let alone for children. The sole purpose of this guideline is to give children a sense of belonging. According to many studies, misbehaved children are children who have misconceptions on how to feel “belonged” and that their mistaken beliefs lead to misbehaviours. One of the best ways to make them feel belonged and to prevent or uproot that false belief system is through one-one bonding time.
So what does special time look like?
For children below five years old, 15 minutes a day is all it takes. Play with them. Play is their language and stress reliever. The goal is to connect with the children deeply by allowing them to lead the interaction.
Older children will naturally require more time. 30 – 45 minutes weekly is recommended for children above five years old. With older kids, we want to show interest in what they love to do. Let them come up with suggestions on how to spend the time. Transfer the power back to them where they lead the interaction and you follow through with what they want.
Some of the benefits of special time:
– Enjoy your children and restore a sense of connection
– Create and foster a sense of belonging
– Deepens your empathy for your children
– It allows you to become an influential person in our children’s lives
– It sets a casual atmosphere for parents to model listening, communication, and problem-solving skills through play
Human beings do better when they feel better. Dr Jane Nelson pointed out, “Sometimes when you make the connection, there isn’t any correction made necessarily.”
This time is the space where children feel connected to us. This is a great window of opportunity for parents to learn children’s thought processes, what they value, and what their belief systems are. Through understanding your children’s belief system only are you able to uproot the underlying causes of their misbehaviour.
Spending special time is an old concept. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad SAW has many hadiths [Click here] reflected his understanding of children’s psychology by making room to connect with them. He understood the concept of connection before any modern child psychology did:
“Whoever has a child should be like a child with him” – Prophet Muhammad SAW
Guideline 2: Take Time for Training
Parents sometimes overlook the aspect of training children. Unintentionally we occasionally burden children with tasks they are not yet developmentally ready to execute well, and we lay unrealistic expectations onto our children without preparing them first.
Sometimes, we even assume children understand our commands and expectations. Then we nag, get annoyed and angry when children get them wrong. However, how many of us adults have invested the time to prepare our children for the responsibilities that lay ahead of them? Do we even know which skills they should learn first?
Dr Jane Nelson believes we must first teach children skills of listening, brainstorming, and problem-solving. Children must learn how to listen and respect other people’s views, and to focus on solutions. We need to empower children to seek solutions so that they feel that they are contributing family members (sense of belonging).
Instead of telling them what to do, teach them problem-solving skills by asking them questions that draw forth solutions from the child. Guidelines for solutions must be helpful, not hurtful, and they should be practical and respectful.
When it comes to teaching children how to perform tasks (like making the bed), training children the Positive Discipline way includes:
- Kindly explain the task as you perform it while your child watches.
- Do the task together.
- Have your child do it on his/her own while you supervise.
- When your child feels ready, let him/her perform the task on his/her own.
I’ve been guilty of skipping some (if not all) of the above steps, with my children. I tell my children what to do without bothering to make them feel included in how they wish to contribute to the family or why they must do it. I’ve also been guilty of not training them any of the above Positive Discipline skills properly. I simply expect children to use “common sense” to decipher what I mean by “clean up your room”. It never occurred to me that we were on different pages. For me “clean your room” meant that dirty laundry should go into the basket and toys neatly placed on the shelf; to my children, that statement simply meant to get toys out of my sight (and that meant tucking them all under the bed). We could have avoided many nagging and lecturing moments, had I learnt the art of training first.
I also find the following helpful when training children:
- Ask questions like, “What is your understanding of what is expected?”
- Be clear, concise, and avoid being bossy.
- Avoid being strict when training, instead make it fun and inviting.
- Allow ample time for practice and mastering of skills.
- Allow room for mistakes.
Guideline 3: Teach and Model Mutual Respect
My last pick of Positive Guideline that I consider as our foundation in disciplining children is in the act of modelling respect. Children must learn what respect looks like. To impart the idea of respect, we must first give respect to the children and ourselves.
Being Kind and Firm in Positive Discipline is the essence of mutual respect. Being Kind is showing children respect, and being Firm is showing ourselves and the situation respect.
Here are some examples of how to teach and model respect:
- Demonstrate patience to children and respond kindly even when children upset us (model self-control).
- Allow children to face failures and disappointments so that we may take this opportunity to guide and empower them through problem-solving skills. It’s disrespectful to do things for children that they are capable of doing themselves.
- Validate children’s feelings by saying, “I see this upsets you” – showing kindness and reassuring their sense of belonging.
- Say “I love you, and the answer is No.” Here you’re showing them respect while being firm.
- Speak politely with them if you wish the same in return.
- If you want your child to stop screaming, you have to stop yelling at them.
- Model listening skills by dropping down to their eye level and getting close to them.
- If you want your child to listen, you must stop yelling. Yelling teaches them to tune out.
Modelling respect towards children becomes extremely difficult during trying times when our patience has run low and we have had enough of a bad day. If you find it impossible to carry out this Positive Discipline tool, it is okay for you to give yourself a time-out and respond to your child when you feel better. There are many hadiths demonstrating anger management for the benefit of the greater good. Let our beloved Prophet Muhammad’s SAW words guide us when he said:
”Allah deals with kindness and likes kindness in every dealing”.