When it comes to parenting, the issue of discipline often causes raucous debate. But boundaries are important when it comes to raising kids.
Nothing sets parents’ nerves on edge quite like the topic of discipline. When your little bundle is handed to you it’s hard to believe you’ll inevitably end up like those parents you’d sworn you’d never be – standing in the aisle at the supermarket while your little cherub screams and thrashes about over the box of cookies they’re not allowed to open.
Most parents have been there (no judgement here!). But how do you approach discipline in the modern era
where smacking, time out, and similar methods are frowned upon? How does the modern parent, well, parent?
In No-Drama Discipline, Dr Daniel J Siegel and Dr Tina Payne Bryson take a scientific, yet gentle, approach to setting
boundaries. The latest research has shown that children, from babies to teens, need to know life’s limits. In fact, the brain and its development thrives on it. Think about how you discipline a baby – it’s not discipline in the ‘punishment’
sense of the word, it’s more about teaching and instructing around your baby’s safety. You teach them what’s safe to go into their mouths and what isn’t; where it’s safe to crawl and walk, and where it might be dangerous. Without realising it, you’re setting boundaries for them, instructing them about their world.
As they develop into toddlers, so the need for boundaries increases. Toddlers continue to explore and test their environment and they rely on you to set the limits. Joburg based child psychologist Dr Dereck Jackson says,
‘Children crave predictability, and through setting rules and boundaries, you help them feel safe and secure.’
Your growing child is constantly looking to you, watching you at every opportunity in order to learn about their surroundings and how to behave as a human being within this environment.
To them, the world is a big and often unpredictable space, and it can be overstimulating and overwhelming on many levels. By setting limits or boundaries, you’re making their immediate environment and the way in which they interact with it, controlled and less chaotic.
On the opposite side of the scale, permissive parenting, where behaviour is not controlled and children are allowed to develop without moderated guidelines, has been shown to have a negative effect on their growth. As Tina and
Daniel point out, ‘The absence of limits and boundaries is actually quite stressful, and stressed kids are more
reactive.’ They don’t know how to manage the world around them, or their place within it. They may have more frequent tantrums and meltdowns, as they’ve failed to learn how to master themselves, their emotions and behaviour, and the impact these might have on others.
While teaching your child limits is beneficial for healthy development, the way in which these boundaries are communicated makes all the difference in how kids learn. As your child’s primary teacher, the way you respond to their curiosity and growth will shape how your messages are received.
From birth, children need interaction, empathy and direct or present communication with their caregivers. They need
to know they’re being heard, respected and understood – especially when it comes to behaving inappropriately.
Teaching and skill building needs to come ‘from a place of love, respect, and emotional connection’, say Daniel and
Tina. Children don’t usually misbehave without a reason; connecting with them and talking to them on the same
level before reacting will help you determine the root of the behaviour. Children often act out with their parents but may be as good as gold in school. This is because they feel safe enough with their caregivers that they can push boundaries. Helping children through these moments builds trust and deeper relationships.
While being mindful in our approach to setting boundaries with children can be a challenge in a busy life,
it makes all the difference. Because they’re constantly observing, they learn from a very young age to follow your
actions and manners. Setting boundaries through aggressive behaviour that instils the lesson through fear or pain
is counterproductive, as the ‘child’s attention shifts from her own behaviour and how to modify it, to the caregiver’s
response to the behaviour, meaning that the child no longer considers her own actions at all’.
If the message or lesson is to be heard, a connection between parent and child must take place. Once the connection has been made and the child has calmed, then the lesson can take place. Daniel and Tina say, ‘Once they’ve felt that connection with us, kids will be more ready to learn, so we can effectively redirect them and talk with them about their behaviour.’
Read more about mindful approaches to discipline in No-Drama Discipline: The whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing mind by Daniel J Siegel, MD, and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD (Scribe).