Behaviour and discipline

All children behave badly on occasions, are sometimes sullen, or rude or truculent. Persistent bad behaviour, though, suggests that a child is unhappy about something; it is important to discover what this is. He may have problems at school, or he may be distressed about a conflict or difficulty within the family.

Misbehaviour seldom gets out of hand if it is handled sensibly. Although parents and child-care specialists agree that without some form of discipline family life becomes insupportable, it is not always easy to decide how this restraint should be imposed. By keeping the following guidelines in mind, parents will probably find it possible to develop a style of discipline that encourages their children to behave well but at the same time allows them to develop a sense of self-reliance and responsibility for their own actions: . try to present children with a clear set of expectations (house rules) that are as explicit as possible, . keep these rules to a minimum: the more rules there are to break, the more likely it is that children will break them, . when rules are broken, do not make repeated threats of punishment that are never followed through, but have specific sanctions that are applied, . make sure that when disciplining a child, this is a result of the child’s behaviour rather than a reflection of a parent’s mood, . make it clear to the child that only his behaviour is at fault, and that your anger or irritation is not prompted by a dislike of him as a person, . be positive about what children should do, as well as about what they should not do, . remember that reward works better than punishment, on the whole: always notice and praise good behaviour. This, after all, is what parents want to reinforce; too often it is only ‘bad’ behaviour that attracts parental attention and rebuke.

Pocket money

Among the other demands made by the schoolchild on its parents comes the inevitable question of pocket money. Childish bartering and exchanges, and small sales held at school, bring the child into contact with money and the desire to have some of her or his own to spend. The main problem for parents is how much should the child receive and from what age? A recent survey revealed that children in Britain between five and seven years are given an average of 50 pence a week.

Apart from providing an easier route for a child to obtain sweets, there is some controversy over whether the giving of pocket money actually teaches a child anything about saving. When a very young child is given a coin, if circumstances allow, he or she will probably attempt to spend it immediately by purchasing sweets or perhaps a comic. At this stage the child has little interest in the change or the fact that he or she could have bought a cheaper comic and a bar of chocolate. As they get older, children’s concept of money changes and, together with parental advice, they may be encouraged to budget and save for a toy or article of clothing they particularly want.

Punishment

If almost everything is fine, punishment eventually plays but a small part in a child’s upbringing. The child learns most from the normal, daily association with others; it constantly adjusts its behaviour, not for fear of punishment, but because it senses what is correct. Only when matters get out of hand should parents now and again intervene. Punishment given in order to force the child to obey may at best result in a short-term effect, or may serve to give the child a short ‘cold shower’ hoping it will later regard the situation differently. But when punishment is used so often that the child is constantly living in fear, the child will become tense, which will not favourably influence its behaviour at all.

The manner of raising children will depend largely on the way in which the parents were brought up. The person coming from a happy family has a certain advantage with regard to the creation of his or her own happy family. The person with an unhappy youth will unfortunately be at a disadvantage with regard to the creation of relationships and the upbringing of his or her own children. That is the reason why an unhappy youth creates such a great problem – the problem often continues into the following generation.