How you bring your children up is a very personal thing, but I think these days most of us are on the same page when we say that hitting kids is wrong and definitely getting a slipper, hairbrush or belt involved as per the parents of yesteryear is unthinkable.
These days, it’s all about talking to your children, being empathetic to what they are going through and understanding why they’re behaving like they do. And also maintaining a very strong sense of humour.
“Without doubt, the best way to raise children is by positive parenting,” explains leading parent and child behaviour consultant, Eileen Hayes, MBE. “This is actually quite complicated and helped if you have some knowledge about child development, and a lot of normal development stages – which a lot of parents do not. To put it in a general way, it’s about focussing on good behaviour, giving most praise and attention to that, and trying to ignore minor naughty behaviour, accepting that most if it is developmentally appropriate at the particular age and stage of the child. It’s also trying to think from the child’s point of view and showing empathy for their feelings. This is of course all the much harder if you didn’t have great parenting yourself or are under a lot of stress.”
Dad of two young boys, Andy agrees. “When I was growing up, it was still alright to smack your kids, so the threat of that was always there even if my dad rarely did it. I don’t think my kids have ever considered that there is even a possiblity of me raising a finger against them, which just adds to the idiocy and inefficiency of me shouting at them when I do. I grew up in a home where my dad was the main teller-offer, and evenings could be spent dreading his return from work when I knew I was in trouble. I hope my kids never see me that way.”
Trying to prevent bad behaviour and having a way to deal with it when it happens seems the key to success here. “What works well for me is managing expectations,” explains Tony, dad to three young boys. “Telling them what to expect in certain situations and how we expect them to behave has worked well. It’s not always successful, but it definitely helps.”
For a lot of parents, when their kids are naughty it takes a lot to not laugh or scream at them; it’s a fine line.
Jez, dad to a teenage girl agrees. “The key for us has been to show her precisely what’s she’s done wrong so that she understands. I always let her have her say back and normally we work through what she’s going to do about it. Discipline is never punishment for me, it’s about learning / doing the right thing in the future. I’m not perfect mind, and of course there have been some frustrated and irrational ‘just do it!’ responses but they’re pretty rare.”
For a lot of parents, when their kids are naughty it takes a lot to not laugh or scream at them; it’s a fine line. “When nothing seems to work, take a big breath and try talking and listening to your child,” says child psychologist, Dr Angharad Rudkin. “Reflect afterwards with your partner/friends about what you could have done differently. Dads are the grown-ups in the relationship with their child so there’s no point sulking, or making a point when their child is misbehaving.”
Laughter sometimes though is the best medicine. “My eldest went through a patch of saying ‘fuck’ and ‘fucking’ in public (my fault, I swear all the time),” says Andy. “But he was really good at swearing! He used the right grammar, understood the context and had killer timing. Typically, by the time we’d stopped laughing he had forgotten he’d ever done it and we decided it was best not to draw attention to it. Thankfully it stopped before he started school!”
“Sometimes all you can do is laugh,” says Tony. “When they’re repeatedly saying ‘poo’ or ‘wee’ or my eldest slaps his head saying ‘for fuck’s sake’ mimicking daddy, it is funny and that’s fine, as long as you explain to them not to do it again and why.”
Dad of two Kyn, however, has tried a few methods with his four year old daughter before realising ignoring her antics was the way forward. “Emmi is as stuborn as they come and wants everything done her way, which can lead to some fairly big confrontations. Over time, I’ve learnt that diplomacy doesn’t work with her, ‘the look’ definitely doesn’t and nor does a raised voice. I’ve tried loads of things including: putting all her toys in a bin bag and chucking them out the front door; the classic naughty step time out and all manner of empty threats, but the one thing that works best is just to completely ignore her. It takes a lot of will power, but so far, I’ve been able to diffuse some potentially big tantrums by just walking away, literally.”
“The ratio of who disciplines depends on how long each parent spends with their children. If each carer spends equal time looking after their kids then there is less likely to be these defined roles as both will need to do the everyday disciplining as well as the ‘big stuff.'”
In a time where dads are becoming increasingly involved in all aspects of childcare, the disciplining of children is more of a shared role than ever before, and rightly so. “The ratio of who disciplines depends on how long each parent spends with their children,” says Dr Angharad. “If each carer spends equal time looking after their kids then there is less likely to be these defined roles as both will need to do the everyday disciplining as well as the ‘big stuff.'”
“We tend to share the discipline in our home,” says Andy. “Sadly, I’m much more likely to raise my voice than my wife but that’s because I’m an idiot and she is much better at this parenting stuff than I am! But I’m proud to say that our kids have been raised in a way that they know you should be quiet in a restaurant, that they don’t hit other kids, or run around on a train so we’re doing something right!”
“Mum is definitely better at discipline,” agrees Tony. “She carries punishments through whereas I sometimes don’t. She’s the main carer and I’m seen as a bit of a soft touch which gets taken advantage of fully!”
And then we have the kids that are just too good!
“I’m that lucky bastard that has never really had to dish out too much daddy discipline over the years,” says Kyn. “My oldest, Leo, who’s six was and is a really sweet kid that hardly ever steps out of line. He’s also the annoying one that will come and grass up all the other kids that are being bad. My wife thinks it’s brilliant behaviour and encourages him, going so far as to tell him that if he sees anyone being bad at school, he should go straight to the teacher. I’m left wondering what age is acceptable for me to sit him down to watch The Godfather and see what happens to snitches!”
A lot of the dads we spoke to don’t really talk to other dads about disciplining their kids, or look for advice elsewhere but most would be up for learning new techniques. “A lot of my friends I’ve known for more than 20 years and don’t even know what some of them do for a living,” explains Andy. “The thought of us discussing something important and relevant to our lives seems very unlikely – we just fall back into our routines of winding each other up!”
Dr Angharad feels that dads are missing a trick here. “Dads should talk to each other, their parents, their friends and look at many of the parenting books out there. They’re not specifically written for mums, although I know a lot of dads think they are. We also need to take on board how men learn new things – sometimes it’s from reading but often its by doing, so I encourage all dads to try new things with their kids and then chat about them with people they trust as a good way of developing skills.”
From speaking to experts and some amazing dads, it’s clear that there has been a significant and important sea change in how parents, and dads in particular, view disciplining their kids. There is a thirst for understanding and nurturing this amazing being they’ve created and to instill core values that they’ll take with them into adulthood. We’ve also learnt that having a good laugh at your kids’ behaviour is good for the soul. So, dads out there – you’re doing great and when your kid swears, shouts or is having a hissy fit in the middle of Sainsbury’s, remember you are not alone and all you need is a deep breath and a bit of understanding. Sounds easy right?!
To end, I’ll hand back to expert Eileen Hayes who has shared with us a few discipline tips. Good luck out there!
Always consider the age and developmental stage of your child. Different behaviour is expected at different ages. All toddlers are on an emotional seesaw and are quite likely to spend a large part of the day in very challenging behaviour from a parent’s point of view – however, this is normal and not to be thought of as naughty. All teenagers are likely to challenge the ideas of their parents and be more influenced by their friends. Don’t take it personally!
Positive parenting and positive discipline works best at all ages. They build on a child’s natural wish to please you, and guarantee a better behaved, happier child. It is about creating a good relationship with your child through love and affection, leading by example. If you shout and scream, sadly your child is likely to do the same.
Focus more on the good behaviour than bad – encourage and give priase for it.
Avoid harsh punishments like smacking and shouting excessively.
Illustrations by David Biskup