Having been raised in this country until the age of 16 by two Bangladeshi parents, one of whom is a retired army general devoted to discipline, I can assure you that I have been through my fair share of negative discipline.
I can also assure you that it is almost entirely ineffective on its own. Please do not misunderstand me and carefully notice what I have just said – ‘almost entirely ineffective on its own.’ I am not saying ‘no; to negative discipline but writing this article to encourage parents to incorporate positive discipline into your management system for raising your children.
Before I get into the details of what positive behaviour management entails, let me first remind you why a parent’s job is now is far more difficult than it was 20 years ago. I want to do this so that you, as a parent, is not too harsh on yourself, or feel helpless, or feel imperfect when your child is acting up. It is not your fault per se. Technology is one of the primary reasons parenting is so much more difficult today.
Today, technology is not only a part of our life but also an integral part of our existence. While it makes our lives easier and provides immense benefits from a social and professional perspective, for many parents in the world, it is the bane of their lives. Unlike the parents of just a generation ago, living room battle between parents and their children for screen time on phones, tablets, laptops, or gaming consoles can be a regular occurrence. Add to this a virus that insists you stay home, and we have essentially stoked the fire.
Staying home for a long time can be mentally exhausting. It indeed takes a toll on both adults and children. Therefore, parents are finding it increasingly difficult to limit screen time as the children have nowhere to go and nothing else to do other than using the technology to fill the void of not being able to run around in a field or socialise with friends or cousins after school. The amalgamation of the above results in parents often losing their temper or repeatedly resorting to negative discipline or punitive measurement out of frustration.
So, let’s go back to my point about positive discipline. What does it entail? Is it as simple as me saying ‘don’t always threaten to take away all the gadgets, instead, try to plan a system where they get more time with their gadgets if they listen or do right by themselves? Or don’t ban them from seeing their friends, promise to reward them with more meetups if they hand in their assignments on time?’
Unfortunately, it isn’t. Just how it takes years of negative discipline for your child only to operate from a place of fear where she will hide or twist things to get their way only for you to discover something about them that will break your heart; it also takes a while to build trust, mutual respect, create a platform for effective communication with your children whereby instead of controlling them, you give them the tools to manage themselves.
Positive discipline is about teaching your children to make appropriate choices and not telling them that this is the law as and when it happens. It is about focusing on solutions through emotional coaching instead of punishing them. It is about encouragement more so than little bursts of praise where you have to fight one of the most deep-rooted notions of a parent’s idea of success (regardless of what culture you are from, and even more so if you are Asian) and that is a fixed grade or score that you expect your child to achieve. You must notice improvement and therefore effort every time it is applied and not just focus on success or what you perceive success. If your child was struggling to submit five out of 10 assignments but a month later is struggling to submit three out of 10, that is a progress. Celebrate the little wins instead of only focusing on the end goal. When you learn that, you will build long term self-esteem for your child and empower them to want to achieve more.
Whilst you may shy away from paying attention to research by experts clouded by your judgment of how you view Western values (or simply because ‘I know what is best for my child’), let this student of not so long ago assure you that a combination of both is ideal with the majority of the discipline being positive. Consequences are important but they don’t always have to be negative, the fear of a stick is less of a motivator than the desire for a carrot. Build a relationship where your child can be open and honest with you, and you will be able to help and guide them better. Build an environmental balance in your children’s lives where one hour of gaming is permitted and therefore two hours seems like a reward. If he or she is already spending four hours on gaming you need to redesign the system; without balance you cannot achieve anything with any form of discipline.
Corporal punishment is the worst form of disciplinary measure. It instils fear rather than evoking respect. Repeated physical punishment damages the parent-child relationship. Positive discipline, on the other hand, builds up confidence and makes children cooperative. Authority need not to be a concoction of fear and power, it can be established with kindness, respect, and understanding. It is never too late to begin. All it requires is some patience and perseverance.
Zeeshan Zakaria is the head of pastoral care at International School Dhaka.