| 7.3°C Dublin

How to discipline without smacks

NO child is perfect or well behaved all the time. Sometimes even the best-behaved child needs to be disciplined.

But smacking isn't the answer. A recent study carried out by the Children's Research Centre in Trinity College found that children felt that slapping made them feel bad, emotionally distressed and unloved.

Children in the study reported that the use of physical punishment did not involve any communication from their parents and that they were less likely to learn from the encounter. They also reported that physical punishment could damage the child-parent relationship. So what are the alternatives?

Talk to them

In order for children to know their behaviour is not acceptable, they have to be told. Explain what they are doing is wrong and tell them not to do it again or they will be punished.

Eye to eye

Get down to the same level when talking to children, look them in the eyes and make sure they understand what you are telling them. Ensure that they are looking at you; ask them to pay attention to what you are saying and ask them to repeat it so they understand it.

Don't shout

Count to 10 take a deep breath and remember that shouting frightens them; it doesn't make them listen any better. Neither does it make our message any clearer to them.

Structure the punishment

Let the child know exactly what you are doing and, most importantly, why. Give them 'the three strikes and you're out' rule.

1 Inform the child what they are doing is wrong and that they need to stop doing it.

2 Repeat that what they are doing is wrong and if they do it again, they will be punished.

3 If they do it again, let the child know that they have used up all their chances and now they will be punished.

What punishment is appropriate?

How you discipline children depends very much on what age they are. When you decide that you are going to discipline children you need to inform them of what will happen if they don't behave and then follow through.

1-2 years of age: Children of this age do not understand rules, so the best form of discipline is redirecting them and distracting them. Teach them by saying "ah ah" or "no" every time they repeat a behaviour that is not okay.

2-4 years: Time-out is generally one minute for every year (two years two minutes etc). Alternatively, remove favourite toys for the rest of day or until they apologise for behaviour. Reward charts work well with this age group as they have positive reinforcement.

5-8 years: Time-out in their bedroom or removal of privileges such as computers or games consoles. Reward charts also work well.

9-12 years: Removal of privileges or grounding. Ask them why they are behaving badly; check if there is something bothering them -- negative behaviour is very often a symptom of something else that is going on for them.

What to remember

The most important rule about disciplining children is to be consistent Non-violent discipline works but it takes time to be successful.

Catherine Bolger is a registered psychologist