Disciplining Your Child: Spare The Rod And Talk To Them Instead


The old adage goes, “spare the rod, spoil the child”. You can  spare the rod, but sometimes it’s better to talk to them about their feelings instead.

The power of words.

It’s a weekday night and you’ve just cooked dinner for your children, but somehow that particular dish doesn’t entice their taste buds for the evening. It’s been a tiring day, and to top it off, your child starts to scream the evening away demanding for a plate of something else. Before you know it, the food has landed itself on the carpet. First thoughts include: “how do I clean this carpet?”, and “how do I make the tantrums stop?” Perhaps a familiar scenario to some parents, and definitely one that makes you wonder, “how do I discipline my child and stop them from throwing a tantrum?”

One solution we’d suggest is simply to talk to your child.

But how?

Through kindness and firmness, you can positively discipline your child. While we each have our own subjective definitions of kindness, a rule of thumb is to respect your child’s feelings in any given situation. It makes your child feel that they are understood and that you acknowledge their negative feelings. According to psychologist Dr. Bernstein, validating these feelings also helps to build your child’s self-esteem and “reduce [their] defiant behaviour”.

However, this doesn’t mean you let your child walk all over you. It’s not kind of your own child to treat you, as their parent, disrespectfully. After your child has calmed down a little, sit down with your child and talk through the situation. Let him/her know that while you understood why he/she felt the way he/she did, you did not appreciate how he/she handled it. Talk through with them why it would be preferable to speak in a calm manner to express their feelings. You can even flip the situation around tell them how they would feel if you did the same thing. This allows them to analyse the situation from their perspective and practise empathy.

An ethnographic study conducted from the 1960s by Briggs about Inuit families found that Inuit parents do not shout at their children when they misbehave, but speak calmly to them instead. In turn, they teach them how to control their negative emotions. These Inuit parents go a step further and use a play to discipline their children.  

First, they act out the scenario of when the child misbehaved. Throughout the performance, they would ask questions about the consequences of the child’s actions in a playful manner. For instance, they would ask their child, “don’t you like me?”, “why would you do that?” It’s an opportune moment for the child to realise that actions do have consequences, and that not every situation has to elicit a reaction.

In a similar vein, parents should note that they ought to lead by example. For instance, if a child spilled a pot of soup, no one would react with an outburst at the child. They would simply acknowledge what had happened and move on.

While we’re not asking all parents to immediately adopt the Inuit parenting method, gently disciplining your child can go a long way. Though it could prove to be a challenge, nurturing them to take charge of and navigate through their emotions can eventually help them, and yourselves, find a healthy way to express negative emotions.   

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