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discipline for your children a joint effort

article written by Naresh Belliyappa
 No matter how much they may deny it, children prefer to have structure and rules in their lives. It gives them a sense of security to know that there are limits placed on them. Children of all ages can find the world chaotic and arbitrary, rules define the boundaries that they must not overstep without consequences. This, in turn, prevents them from muddling through situations that they may not have the maturity to handle. Providing consistent discipline tailored to a child's age and emotional maturity is probably the hardest job that parents face. It can be made a whole lot harder if the two parents involved have differing views on what constitutes discipline.

Disciplining your child includes a system of rewards and negative consequences if the rules are disobeyed. Most parents have problems with the 'punishment' phase. They tend either to overlook the transgression, employ excessive punishment or be inconsistent in their use of corrective measures leaving the their child confused and prone to test their parents' authority time and again.

Children can be manipulative. If they sense that the parents are not wholly in agreement on how to handle a particular transgression, they will probably try to play one parent off against the other. If either parent decides not to follow through, it not only weakens both parents' authority, it also leaves the parent who insists on carrying through the punishment feeling embitteredl and guilty.

In most families, there is an unspoken, perhaps even an unconscious campaign between parents to be the child's favourite. This desire to be seen as the child's "special buddy" may be natural, but it can cause serious rifts between couples, especially if it leads to one parent being undermined by the other. In matters of discipline, there must be unanimity between parents as to how it should be applied. If there are areas of dispute, they should always be resolved out of the presence of the child. Moreover, both parents should agree to be consistent when dealing with similar situations. If one parent has a 'time out' period of an hour for a certain infringement of the house rules while the other decides on grounding the child for a week for the same offense, it is inevitable that not only will the child be confused, he/she will probably be resentful and unwilling to follow any of the rules set by either parent.

The question of discipline becomes more fractious if the parents are separated or divorced and one or both of them are in new relationships. They should make a concerted effort to keep their child's best interests at heart, sitting him/her down and clearly spelling out the rules of behaviour and the consequences for violating those rules. Divorce or separation means a rending of the familiar family unit - the child is torn between grief, anger and confusion, unsure where his/her loyalties should lie. One way of softening the impact is by never talking about or acting toward the other parent in a derogatory manner. By treating each other with mutual respect and consulting on matters concerning their son/daughter, the separated/divorced couple teach their child that: a) conflicts should be handled in a mature manner with no accusing finger-pointing involved

b) the welfare of the child is central to their concerns and

c) both parents aim to be involved in the total care and upbringing of the child including his disciplining, if it arises.

If new relationships are formed by either or both parents, the new comers into the child's life should be made aware of the rules jointly laid down by both the parents and while suggestions for improvement are always welcome, the final decision on how the matter is handled rests solely with the parents. At the same time, the child should be advised on the need to listen and respect the new partners of their parents and any problems or disagreements should be discussed openly and with regard for the feelings of all concerned. For all to coexist in mutual harmony, the adults should avoid displaying open hostility or undue loyalty to anyone other than the child.

An effective way to teach a child good behaviour is for parents to "practice what they preach". A child's value system is strengthened by actions taken by the adults in their life as much as by verbal admonitions. No matter how irritated or angry you are, always be aware that your child will be more responsive if you sit him/her down and calmly explain what the problem is and what the consequences of his/her chosen response will be.

With greater maturity or as situations change, the rules governing the child's life at home needs to change with new ones introduced and some withdrawn while others remain the same. But regardless of the situation, parents should always present a unified front and work together and not against each other in providing effective discipline for their child. Instilling good behaviour in a child is never easy, but it is our parental responsibility not to shrink from this task.

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