Boundaries, guidance, teaching: confronting modern discipline dilemmas

Kinderling News & Features

Mention the word discipline and you’ll have a tidal wave of opinions come your way. The way we parent has changed so much from the way we were parented. Physical discipline is now a no-no, raising our voices doesn’t often work, we don’t want our kids to fear us, and the list goes on.

So how can we discipline our children when there are so many voices telling us what to do?

Pinky McKay is an author, parenting expert and lactation consultant who says that in order to have a respectful and consistent way of disciplining your child, we have to have the discussion with our partners first. How can we expect a child to learn from a mistake if one parent says they’re disappointed, and the other sends them to their room for time-out?

Examine your parent ‘tool box’

Pinky’s advice is to take stock of the tools already in your parenting “tool box” and to compare them with your partners. “As parents you are two individuals with different upbringings, different things in your tool box and I think it’s really important to sit down with your partner - even before that child gets to a year old. Sit down and discuss what’s in your parenting toolbox, what’s in and what's out, and what are grey areas?” Pinky says.

For example, this generation is really becoming one of the first for whom a smack isn’t really much of an option any more. But as parents we were brought up having smacking as punishment and part of our ‘tool boxes’.

Decide what your boundaries are

“Have the conversation with your partner about what’s acceptable, what you’ll do, how you’ll set boundaries, what's different in each individual household,” Pinky recommends. 

This extends beyond your own home too. It’s up to us to realise that every home and family is different and as such, every home and family has different thresholds. Where one family who have indoor pot plants might teach a child to not play in the dirt of those plants, another may just move the pots. “You don’t have to agree with your partner, but you need to have the discussion so you both know where the line is,” Pinky adds. 

Listen to Pinky on Kinderling Conversation:

Children don’t know where the line is, so be respectful and consistent.

Figure out your basic things that fall into respect like; you can’t hurt others, and you can’t do things that are harmful to your health (or to anyone else around). 

Define discipline for your family

So, what is discipline, if it’s different to every person?

Pinky says that thinking about discipline as guidance instead of punishment is a great way to go.

Children don’t get up in the morning plotting to irritate us as parents, Pinky says; “I’m a little person, I’ve got big feelings, and the world is new and I’m exploring and I’m discovering and I really don't know what's appropriate. Sometimes that may be anger, maybe what we see as violence.”

That violence that we see as aggression and ‘bad behaviour’, sometimes when they hit a cat or their new baby sibling, isn’t always that straight forward. “Maybe they don't have the coordination to pat the cat gently or maybe we just need to teach them how to pat the cat gently.” Pinky suggests. Coach them gently by saying things like, “we don’t hurt kitty, here use your gentle hands.”

“Take them by the hand and show them what you do want. We’re still teaching and teaching and teaching.”