Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Parenting would be much easier if all your children had the same traits – that way you’d be able to give, treat and manage their behaviour similarly! But the fact remains that they are hardly peas in a pod. Each is a unique individual with his or her own strengths, weaknesses, personalities and preferences.
Not only that, you alter your personality when communicating with each of them too, even if you don’t realise it. You respond differently depending on the particular child’s personality and on your previous experience with them. Parenting, therefore, is an interactive process between your individuality and your children’s individuality. Hardly surprising then that when it comes to discipline, one size does not fit all. You have to tailor your behaviour management methods to fit the needs of each child.
Of course, the basic principles of discipline remain the same for all your children, whether they are five, seven or any other age. Your family should decide upon clear rules and explicit limits on their behaviour so that they know what they can and cannot do. A fair system of rewards and punishments should also be established.
All of these discipline measures should be set in a loving, caring context in which each child feels loved, safe and valued. In addition, discipline is always more effective when the emphasis is on the positive reinforcement of good behaviour rather than the punishment of challenging behaviour. The same principles should apply to every child in the family.
But the way that these discipline principles are transformed into practice is what varies from child to child. For example, your five-year-old may burst into tears of disappointment if you tell her that you are displeased with her behaviour, whereas her sibling may simply shrug his shoulders indifferently – perhaps he only responds seriously when you forcefully reprimand him and deprive him of his favourite toy.
Similarly, your seven-year-old may be one of those children who pushes the family rules to the absolute limit, such that you have to keep a close watch on what she gets up to when playing with her friends. On the other hand, you may feel totally confident that when you tell your five-year-old to go to bed at a certain time, she will do so without any complaint.
Here are some suggestions for effective individual-centred discipline at home:
1. Respond to individuality Their unique fusions of personalities and abilities make your children the special individuals that they are. You need to respond to that uniqueness, matching discipline to individuality.
2. Use “what works” Accept that when it comes to managing your children’s behaviour at home, what works with one might be completely ineffective with another. Find out “what works”, then use that particular method with that particular child.
3. Evaluate your strategies Even when you feel that you already have a good individual-centred system of discipline, you may find that what is effective at one stage no longer has the same impact later. Be prepared to adapt your discipline style as your children develop.
4. Explain differences Your children may spot, for instance, that you are more lenient with one than another. Explain to them that you treat them fairly, but that the way you respond to their behaviour depends to some extent on the situation.
5. Have realistic expectations Don’t expect too much from yourself or your children. Discipline works in phases, sometimes working smoothly, and on other occasions not. If you are having a tough time at the moment, it will probably get easier soon.
Related: Anger management for your child