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SHOULD PARENTS SET BOUNDARIES?

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Raising children is like walking a tightrope. There is certainly no pixie dust available for ideal parenting. It is an ongoing journey where the parents and the child both evolve.

It is important to set boundaries or give a free hand to your child in this process, tells us, Sheetal Sharma, an academician and author of books for children.

A mother was helplessly trying to control her hyperactive child, who was running around in circles mimicking the chug-chug sound of a train loudly. This was happening in the waiting lounge of a hospital. The child was amused while the mother was embarrassed. Other patients who were also waiting were agitated because of the turbulent, noisy behaviour of the child. Perhaps the parents had not considered it important enough to ingrain the norms of social behaviour and care for the comfort of others as well.   

Let us reflect on another behaviour pattern – the behaviour of fuming and fretting of a child who cannot find his favourite toy. The mother searches around for the toy frantically, knowing that the child’s behaviour will soon turn into violent screams and banging of things. She heaves a big sigh of relief when she finds the toy and hands it over to the child. She lets go of the opportunity of inculcating a sense of responsibility in her child by not enforcing the rule of keeping the toys back after the play.

It is also quite common to see a child enjoying a video game or watching his/her favourite TV show after the laid down time limit is over. He/She does it because his parents give in.

This makes the child unsure about the behaviour boundaries because he is not given the message clearly, ‘Rule is a rule and is meant to be obeyed.’ No wonder such children, when they grow up, are tempted to jump red lights.

We as parents love their children but sometimes overlook the importance of discipline in their lives. The above instances indicate so.

Making children behave right is not a matter of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Parents need to work as a team to make discipline effective. They need to take out time for giving necessary guidance to their children.

What makes discipline effective and enforceable?

Bonding

Discipline works best when a child feels cared for. Family time, parents playing with the child his favourite game, reading out a story to him, cooking his favourite dish create a bonding. The child feels secure in his parents’ love, which makes him more amenable to discipline.

Positive Guidance

When parents convey a message or an instruction positively, the child is more likely to react positively. ’Don’t leave food on your plat be as effective as, ‘Mom will feel happy if you finish your food or ‘Show me your empty plate, and mom will give you a hug.’

Tell the child what to do rather than what not to do.

Play Partner-Partner

When a child is a party to framing rules; they own them up and ​are​ ready to abide by them. Please talk about the rules with the child and encourage him to give his opinion. This will not only make him feel important but act as a strategy for self-discipline.

Encourage Communication

Sometimes a child ignores the prescribed or the mutually agreed upon behaviour. The defiance could be a cover-up to some anxiety, inner turmoil, boredom or even mild rebellion to some imposed rule. It is good to show patience at such times. Encourage the child to talk about her feelings. See her point of view empathetically and explain yours. This kind of interaction keeps a balance and brings the child around to agreed discipline.

Inculcate problem-solving skills

Encourage children​ to find the consequences of their actions. This understanding will guide him to choose the right action. Ask, “What will make you a likeable friend – snatching or sharing toys?” When the child can see the logic, he can figure out things for himself. He is better placed to make the right choices. The logic will also help him to understand the validity of rules, thus making them more acceptable.

Extend unconditional acceptance to your child but not to his behaviour. If he ever does something wrong, don’t disapprove of the child; disapprove of the behaviour.

Be Consistent

It is important to have crisp rules, or else the child will be confused. It is equally important that he understands what happens when he overlooks or disobeys rules. Set firm rules and stick to agreed consequences when a rule is broken. This helps the child to self-regulate himself and stick to well-defined rules.

Positive Reinforcement

Behaviour modification through positive reinforcement is not only effective but pleasant too. So as a parent, don’t miss out on this. When a child follows a rule, praise him instantly. “Well done,” “This calls for a hug” – these words convey your acceptance which means a lot to the child. His self-esteem goes a few notches up, and so does his desire to obey.

Giving in to the child for breaking the rules will make him confused and act as a deterrent to appropriate behaviour.

Set Right Your Own Behaviour

Whatever you want your child to be, be the same yourself. If you want him to be well mannered, don’t forget to use ‘thank-you,’ ‘please,’ ‘sorry.’ If you want him to be soft-spoken, try not to raise your voice. He will learn kindness if he sees that in your behaviour. Children learn best when parents set examples.

Sheetal Sharma

About the Author: Sheetal Sharma is an author and a senior academician.

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