Say no to the naughty step: Eight different ways to discipline young children
By Lisa Salmon
Disciplining children, whatever their age, is one of parenting’s greatest challenges, and there are many ways to do it – not all of therm successful.
One of the most popular discipline methods in recent parenting history was the ‘naughty step’ or chair, championed by Supernanny Jo Frost in her Channel 4 TV series. Frost would give children a warning about bad behaviour, and if they misbehaved again, they were put on the naughty step, where they’d serve a time-out of one minute per year of their age so they could calm down, think about their behaviour and, ultimately, apologise.
The naughty step was first suggested by Frost around 2004, but these days many parenting experts prefer different methods of disciplining young children, while acknowledging it’s a tough job however you do it.
“Whether you have a toddler or a teenager, setting boundaries and getting them to stick to them is one of our greatest challenges,” says Lorraine Thomas, chief executive of The Parent Coaching Academy. “And there are times when all of us are feeling too tired or stressed to argue, and we let them have their own way.”
Here Thomas and The Lasting Life Change Coach Jane Evans, an expert in trauma parenting, give their tips on how to discipline young children so they don’t get their own way…
1. Say no to the naughty step
Thomas points out the true meaning of discipline is ‘to learn’ or ‘to teach’, not to punish. “I’ve never been a fan of the naughty stair – giving children time-out to stop behaviour you want to discourage,” she says. “Threats and ultimatums may work in the short-term, but they definitely won’t in the long-run. There are much more effective ways of helping your children understand how you want them to behave.”
And Evans agrees time-out techniques aren’t the best thing for any child.
“Using time-out, we hope a child will learn that if they push their brother, don’t eat their dinner etc. there’ll be an upsetting, negative outcome. Unfortunately, sitting on the naughty step is harmful to the relationship of trust and safety every child badly needs in order to develop a healthy sense of their self-worth. No amount of isolation, shaming and false apologies can create this.”
2. Time-out for parents instead
Thomas says that while it’s natural for parents to feel stressed and lose their temper when their kids are behaving badly, going head-to-head with them in the heat of the moment won’t work. “That’s the time when we often shout and say things we wish we hadn’t – we react instead of responding,” she says.
For this reason, time-out is more important for mums and dads than children, she says. “It gives us an opportunity to calm ourselves down so we can deal with the situation in an effective way, and be the parents we want to be.”
To use their time-out effectively, Thomas suggests parents follow this ABC technique…Accept how you feel; Breathe deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth, as your body can’t feel stressed and relaxed at the same time; Choose how you want to respond.
3. Focus on their emotions
Instead of focusing on children’s behaviour, look beneath the surface at the emotion that’s driving it. “If we can tune into that and help our children manage that emotion – sadness, anger, fear – we can have a significant impact on their behaviour,” says Thomas, who explains that parents shouldn’t punish kids for struggling with an emotion that’s overwhelming them.
So, rather than punishing them if they get angry, parents should give them tools to help them manage the anger and understand it.
4. Engage, explore, empower…
Instead of punishing children, step into their world and empathise with them – look at the world through their eyes, advises Thomas.
She says parents can do this, once they are calm after their ABC, by firstly engaging with their child, then exploring how they’re feeling, and finally empowering them by giving them a tool to help them calm themselves so they can manage their emotions.
5. Give attention for the right reasons
Make sure you give your child attention for behaviour you want to encourage, rather than behaviour you want to discourage. Praise them as you “Catch them ‘red-handed’ behaving well and describe what you see,” suggests Thomas.
6. Use positive language
Thomas says negative language is hard for children’s brains to process, and explains: “When your child hears you say, ‘don’t run’, ‘don’t shout’ or ‘don’t argue’, they hear ‘run’, ‘shout’, ‘argue’. So get into the habit of showing and telling them what you do want them to do.”
She suggests parents try using the words ‘when’ and ‘then’ more, so instead of saying ‘If you don’t put on your pyjamas you can’t have a story,’ say ‘When you’ve put on your pyjamas, then you can have a story’.
7. Involve them in decision-making
If you give your child some responsibility when it comes to choice, they’re much more likely to do what they should, explains Thomas. So, for example, if they have English and maths homework, ask them to choose which they want to do first, rather than telling them how you think they should do it.
8. Connect with them
Evans says connecting with children is key to helping them find a solution to the way they feel, and dealing with their emotions.
The way to connect with them, she explains, is when they do something you don’t want them to, pause (unless there’s any danger), take a breath and then use a simple connecting phrase like ‘Are you OK?’ or ‘Shall I sit near your?’. Then ask if they’re feeling stressed/scared/angry/sad or something else.
“You don’t need an accurate reply,” says Evans. “Just to connect them with a feeling, or two. Then, once you’ve listened, and explored how they might feel, gently explore what they might need another time they feel this way – come up with a simple solution.
“Doing this every time builds a strong relationship with your child, and great emotional intelligence. This is the perfect way to ensure your child develops with an amazing sense of self-worth, empathy and amazing solution-focused ways of moving through life.”