There’s no two ways about it, people are divided on whether you should smack children. Ingrid Barratt finds out if there is a better option for disciplining our kids.
The so-called ‘anti-smacking’ law comes in and out of the news all the time, and the issue has become so contentious in Australian society that we even had a TV show come out of it in 2011—appropriately titled The Slap.
Whether you are for or against smacking your kids, the argument that always seems to come to the surface is that we were smacked as kids, and it didn’t do us any harm, did it?
In fact, there is a wide body of research that shows there are far more effective ways of disciplining children. It begins with considering what we mean by discipline—the Latin word ‘disciplina’ means ‘teaching’ or ‘learning’. Punitive actions like smacking will teach our children what-not-to-do, but don’t teach positive alternatives. Effective discipline replaces the negative with positive behaviour.
Proverbs chapter 22 verse 6 tell us, “Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.” This shows that training, or coaching, our children is an essential aspect of positive discipline. Our children use pretend-play every day to learn about the world, and we can use this to teach them good behaviour. Rather than saying, “Mind your manners!” gently role-play with them—“Can I have a sandwich, please?”
Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, suggests switching roles with your child: “Pretend you’re the child, and let your little one direct you through making better choices,” she says. “Be encouraging when they do make the right choices. ‘Thank you for sharing the book with your brother. How kind.’”
The number one way to encourage good behaviour is to keep your child’s ‘attention basket’ full. “My usually well-behaved child had a friend over and started grabbing toys off him. Thinking I was doing the right thing, I ignored my son and encouraged his friend by saying, ‘Oh what good sharing’,” recalls one mum.
“But my son’s behaviour just got worse. Later, he admitted that he was ‘feeling jealous’ of the attention I was giving his friend. It really opened my eyes to just how much positive attention our children need.”
McCready suggests “taking a few minutes a day to spend one-on-one with your child, distraction-free and doing something they want to do. [This] will reap immense rewards in their behaviour.” The mum from the story above would have got better cooperation from her son if she had got down on the floor with him, and simply played with the children for a few minutes.
Finally, set a few simple limits and stick to them. “Don’t go overboard with hundreds of rules, but focus on what’s most important for your family,” says McCready. “Be clear about the ground rules and what happens when someone breaks the rules—make sure that everyone understands the consequences ahead of time and that the discipline is related to the misbehaviour.”
Reprinted with permission of War Cry New Zealand.