Submitted by Adv. Veerash Srikison – Director of Fair Practice Mediation Services.( online services available) For more information on resolving your disputes go to  www.fairpractice.co.za or email info@fairpractice.co.za.  This article is not legal advice.

The lockdown has interrupted the family routine and schedule.  Parents are with their children more than usual and need disciplinary strategies for the tantrums and misbehavior that’s bound to happen.  Your primary focus is to remember that you are always in a relationship with your child and you need to hold on to that relationship more than your urge to punish your child. There is no better time than now to engage in effective parenting skills that promote a co-operation from your children eventually leading to a respectful parent-child relationship.

Positive discipline is all it takes

Some tips on how to discipline:

  • Punishment is not a form of discipline. It is a negative reaction that has damaging consequences to the relationship with your child and turns your home into a battlefield. Taking away toys, physical or verbal abuse, isolating children in a room or corners, says to children that you only want to deal with them when they are good.
  • Take a breath and calm yourself, before you react with punishment, No one is listening when the emotions are high, everyone is reacting and being dramatic!
  • Engage with your child in a non-threatening manner. Your tone of voice and body language must indicate that you want to hear and understand what had happened.
  • Talk about feelings, both yours and theirs.  Do not tell your child how they are meant to be feeling.
  • Do not explain what has happened. Let them explain it to you and LISTEN to what they are saying. Pay attention to the words they use, the tone of their voice and their body language.  Look out for non-verbal cues of communication.
  • Repeat what they have told you. This assures them that you were paying attention and that you understood them.
  • Do not interrogate your children. Ask open-ended questions (how, why, what).  Do not answer for your child. LISTEN
  • Explain the impact their behavior had on others (yourself, siblings, friends). Your child must learn to take responsibility for their actions.
  • Brainstorm solutions and consequences.  Evaluate each solution and add a reality test. Add in the consequences (depending the age, developmental stage and maturity of your child) for instance, “you will need to help me clean up the cornflakes on the floor so that it does not mess up the entire kitchen”.  This teaches them problem-solving skills.
  • For younger kids, use non-threatening body language. Open your arms for them to come to you as verbal communication is not fully developed.
  • Stay close by during a melt- down to keep them from harming themselves. Let the melt down play out. If they are in a safe zone, sit nearby and when they make eye contact open your arms for them to come to you. Alternatively, move them to a safe space.
  • Let them know that you are there for them. If your child refuses to engage with you and goes into another room or moves away from you, let them know that you are always ready to speak to them when they want to.

Manage your reactions

This is not a one size fits all approach. You will need to adapt your strategies according to your child’s age, maturity and developmental stage.  To discipline your child is a parenting moment that creates experiences throughout their childhood which consequently influences their developing minds.  So before you react with punishment, ask yourself “what lesson do I want to teach my child”. Your long-time goal is to move your child from reactionary behaviour to cultivating collaboration and co-operation when things go wrong.

Learning to manage reactions is difficult and parents will not get it right every time.  As a parent or care giver, when you get frustrated and lash out onto your children, this ruptures the relationship and creates confusion and misunderstanding for your children. As soon as you can, you must work on repairing that rupture.  Apologise for lashing out and explain what led to your behavior.  You need to explain how you felt and let them know you will try to do better (I’m sorry I lost control of myself, I am tired.  Please tell me how it affected you.”).  Thus showing that you want to have a respectful relationship with your child and these conversations brings back calmness into the home.

Always remember: 

This pandemic has brought about a disruption that we have not seen before.  Children will model the behavior they see and experience.

Use this time wisely to create a new path to communicate and connect with your children that creates a respectful home environment.

The way we parent our children now will have a generational impact on how they view methods of discipline and problem-solving. In a time of crisis like this one, we want our children to reflect and share their memories of how they got through this pandemic with their parents on and by their side.

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