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Discipline: Parenting in a Pandemic

By Sherylene Ganesh

If parenting came with a GPS, it would probably say recalculating!

The fear and uncertainty of the COVID 19 pandemic has made it tough for families all over the world. With the ongoing pandemic it may feel as if everything is out of control including your children who have been mostly indoors, away from school and with fewer opportunities to play than before. This may result in negative behavior and temper tantrums that may have parents feeling overwhelmed and at wits end, as to how one could discipline children in a healthy and non-judgmental manner.

It is first vital to understand the difference between discipline and punishment.

Discipline is a future and goal orientated method which is aimed at correcting future behavior so that the child can benefit, learn and grow. The focus is on teaching the child self-control and appropriate behavior for the child’s benefit. Through this, the child learns security and senses care from the adult.

Punishment however is past orientated, and is aimed at making the child pay for their past mistakes- An eye for an eye! The focus is on control of behavior, often for the adult’s benefit. This causes the child to feel fear and guilt. Discipline is NOT the same as punishment as it involves teaching the child much more such as setting rules, loving the child, telling them what kinds of behavior you expect, when they are doing it right and ultimately teach them to WANT to be good. Discipline has many different aspects and some of the things might seem very strange at and you may not even want to accept them at first. Just keep an open mind-these things have been working all over the world for many years now!

Here are some helpful tips on discipline:

  • RULES: Firstly, creating rules is vital as children need to feel safe. They need to know what is acceptable or not in the household. The rules must be very clear, and repeated often in the house. Rules will only work if they are consistent, if you don’t notice a child makes his bed in the morning or not, the child will stop trying to please you. You need to notice every time your child makes his/her bed, reward or praise them when they do and discipline when they don’t.

  • ROUTINE: A routine brings about predictability, which makes children feel safe. For example, break time. The child needs to know that we have to work and complete certain tasks for a certain period before we have a break. This is very important for children who lose motivation easily.

  • RESPONSIBILITY: Make rules about who is responsible for certain chores in the house. This will help you, and also the children feel important and responsible.

  • POSTIVE REINFORCEMENT AND REWARDS: Positive reinforcement will make good behavior happen again! Rewards do not always have to be a present or something you buy like sweets or a new toy. Teach your child to not expect a present but rather enjoy praise, physical contact, attention and special time with the parent and use this straight after good behavior. Be specific in your praise and show them your appreciation! Sometimes children behave badly because they want the attention of their parents. Other forms of discipline can be to take away the child’s rewards. You can remove certain privileges such as watching TV, toys or phone for a certain period of time as a form of punishment. Alternatively use can use the time-out method which is a good way to deal with bad behavior. The child is taken to a specific room or place of their own and has to stay there for a few minutes. The time-out place must not be somewhere exciting or fun, it needs to be an empty room, space or with a chair facing the wall of the room. Nobody is allowed to talk to the child while they are in time-out. This takes the child away from other people and they can’t join in on the fun with others for a certain period of time.

During these times of uncertainty, it has become much easier to become triggered by one’s own childhood and thus be transported to those experiences of punishment very fast.

Hitting and smacking children does not work well in the long term, and teaches the child that it is OK to hit others.

It is important to parent gently when this occurs as it is tempting to act out one’s own triggers by behaving in the more familiar way of screaming, yelling at hitting.

Remember to give yourself grace, compassion and empathy as parenting is a process of reflection, not perfection.

When this occurs say this: ‘this is a tough moment for us both. I need a minute to calm my body and then I can help you.’ Here are some tips to do before disciplining your child when you are overwhelmed:

  • Stop in your tracks. Step back and sit down.

  • Take 5 deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Slowly, Slowly.

  • Count to 10. Better yet count to 20!

  • Phone or Video call a friend or relative

  • Do some exercise

  • Take a bath or shower

  • Journal your thoughts

  • Water your plants

  • Listen to some music

It is important that we acknowledge that living through a pandemic is hard and being a parent during this time is much harder and a job most have never had to do before! All of the above will need lots of practice and sometimes you will still get it wrong. It is important to practice self-care, to never give up and most importantly to keep trying and the child’s negative behavior WILL change. It is all about the attitude and HOW you talk to your child which makes a biggest difference!

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