To discipline your primary school child effectively, know that the rules that once applied when she was a preschooler no longer apply.
Tweenhood, the ages between seven and 10, can be a complicated time in a child’s life. Your kid is on the path to self-discovery and eager to prove to everyone, especially her parents, that she is a mini adult ready for more responsibility.
“She is also starting to show signs of puberty – wanting to be more independent and thriving for self-control,” notes parenting expert Cornelia Dahinten.
This is when her behaviour changes – she wants to be less controlled by her parents and starts testing boundaries, she adds.
Old rules don’t work
Peter Jayan Chelliah, 42, a claims officer, couldn’t agree more. Ever since his son Yuvaraj, eight, started primary school, he’s noticed that the disciplining tactics that used to work previously no longer do.
“Things like taking away TV and playground time were enough to get him to behave, but they no longer work now,” Peter says. “Although they are still very effective with my three-year-old daughter!” he quips.
Sharlene Tan, 41, an account manager and mum to Ashley, eight, concurs. When her son was younger and used to misbehave, she spanked his bum lightly or took away privileges, such as buying new toys.
“It no longer works, because what he does now is save his recess money during the week and uses that to spend on himself when he goes out with me,” she says. “Also, I’ve had to give up spanking because he tells me beating is abuse.”
So how do you discipline a primary school child? These are typical challenges parents of tweens face, says psychologist Daniel Koh.
Not too long ago, your child was completely dependent on you and your guidance to navigate life. Now that she’s doing more things on her own and has her own circle of friends as a support system, she thinks she’s ready for more independence. However, you may not feel the same way.
“This is when the power struggle and dominance start, which results in more challenging behaviour,” Daniel explains.
“Fear and control used to work, but now it’s become a sore point. Also, the same discipline method will stop working after a while because either the child gets used to it or learns to work around it.”
(Also read: 6 discipline secrets from Singapore moms)
Does this mean it’s time to start letting your child have her way? Most definitely not, Cornelia says. Even though she may behave more grown-up, she is not. Your child still needs a lot of guidance, but in a more liberal manner than previously.
“You still see her as your little baby – and she is – but your kid wants to feel that you’re taking her seriously, that her opinion is heard and valued,” Cornelia adds.
“That does not mean, though, that she gets to decide on things, because at the end of the day, she is still a child. As the parent, you decide, but now include her in the thought process and open up for conversation to prepare her for the future.”
If you’re currently in a gridlock situation with disciplining your primary school child, our experts recommend some easy ways to start working through them.
Help your child to think independently
The days of “I know better than you” or “just listen to what I say” are over. The harder you try to keep your child under your thumb, the more aggressive she will become.
Instead, use this as an opportunity to hone your child’s critical thinking skills. Guide her as she works through a discipline issue. Ask her to think why her actions might have been wrong, what she could have done better and how she will approach it the next time.
Give her time to process it and keep the communication channels open, so she feels she can approach you at any time. “This will help to foster future discussions,” Daniel says.
(Also read: When 11-year-old boy thinks mum is no longer cool)
This approach worked well on Yuvaraj recently when he was involved in small argument in school and ended up striking a fellow classmate out of frustration.
“We explained to him the importance of patience and not hurting another peer student. We also turned the roles around and made him realise he wouldn’t have wanted to be treated the same way,” Peter says.
“It worked and he apologised to his friend the next day.”
Let your kid to have a say in family rules
By establishing clear rules, you are setting the boundaries as a parent. And by allowing your child to have a say in these rules, you’re giving her a slice of independence and teaching her how to work with structure and routine – skills that will come in very handy as she grows up.
She will also feel valued knowing that she has a voice in family discussions.
(Also read: 10 myths about tweens every parent should know)
Get your kid to be responsible for her behaviour
Since your child thinks she’s ready to be responsible, give her a chance to prove herself. Allocate simple chores that are age appropriate.
If she sticks to her end of the bargain, reward her accordingly. For example, from today, your tween is responsible for making her own bed. If she does, she can play with her neighbours after school. By doing this, your kid is learning to earn her privileges.
(Also read: 6 reasons why your child won’t do his chores)
While on the subject of rewards, don’t be too quick to succumb to your child’s demands. Rewarding good behaviour is great way to parent positively when disciplining your primary school child, but that doesn’t mean it has to be on her terms. In fact, it’s better to find a compromise, so she knows you’re still in charge.
When Ashley recently told his mum that he wanted an iPhone in exchange for getting good grades in his exams, Sharlene said no. However, she could see her son wanted some acknowledgement for working hard, so she decided that the reward would be on her terms.
“He ended up doing very well for his exams and I sent him to coding camp over the holidays with his friends, which he had been wanting to go for,” Sharlene says.
Connect the behaviour to the consequence
“This is really important,” Cornelia says. “Only ever say something that is directly connected to the behaviour or incident.”
This is to make sure your tween knows you’re only trying to correct the situation and the part she played in it, as opposed to correcting her as a person, which she might see as a personal attack.
“For example, if your child takes her bike out to her friend’s house, but always forgets her helmet, she is no longer allowed to take her bike there, or by herself,” Cornelia suggests.
Or if she broke a rule about smartphone usage, take the phone away for 24 hours.
Allow for natural consequences
Another way to teach your child that her actions have consequences is to allow them to unfold as they should. But only do so if the consequence is non-threatening and will not cause your child any distress.
For example, if your child forgets to do her homework, don’t do it for her, but send her to school with the homework not done and let her face the repercussions.
“We need them to fail sometimes,” Cornelia says.
(Also read: 12 ways to use positive discipline with your child)
Model good behaviour
The most obvious, but also the hardest. Want your kid to be kind, compassionate and cooperative? Be that person.
Parents are the best teachers and your child is constantly watching and learning from you, so lead the way.
Peter offers this parent-tested tip: “Sometimes when I’m talking to Yuvaraj, I include personal stories of how I was disciplined when I was young and how it has benefited me. Or how differently I was disciplined and how we’re using a different approach.
“We also frequently tell him that he has younger siblings who look up to him, so he also needs to set a good example for them.”
Your struggle disciplining your primary school child will be an ongoing one – and it might even get worse as she enters the angsty teen years. Remember, you used to be a tween once a upon a time, so having the right amount of empathy will come in handy.