I was at the super market today, excitedly picking up my usual Kwality Walls “Divine Chocolate” tub, when something interesting caught my eye. A young girl, probably around 6 years old was asking her mother for that new Magnum ice cream stick. “Mumma mumma, can I have thiiisss one?” she said in that typical sing-song kid tone. Her mother, poor thing, seemed to be in a hurry and just distractedly replied with a simple ‘no’. The little girl’s tirade went on, each time getting more indignant, while the mother got more and more impatient. When the mother decided she’d had enough of her daughter’s behaviour, she lightly but firmly rapped the girl on her head, re-affirmed that she was, in fact, not going to buy the Magnum ice cream stick, and they both left the store, no ice cream in hand, and no trace of a smile on either face.
Children’s social development refers to the manner in which they imbibe and are taught skills and behaviours to be equipped to relate to others in a social context. And from what I witnessed earlier this evening, I got thinking about the enormous role of parental discipline in their child’s social and emotional development.
Discipline refers to the methods of teaching self-control, character, moral values and appropriate behaviour. It is a powerful tool for the process of social interactions and social development. There are wide ranges of techniques that are used to discipline children, each with their own set of results. Underpinning effective discipline is the child’s ability to internalise the message that parents are trying to communicate through their disciplining techniques.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of disciplining techniques:
1) Power Assertion
This refers to the use of verbal and physical enforcement of rules and codes of conduct. It includes demands, threats, spanking, withdrawal of privileges and other such punishments. (The above scenario is an example of this)
2) Love Withdrawal
This includes withholding attention or approval, or expressing disappointment or disapproval after a child misbehaves. It could involve ignoring, isolating or showing dislike for the child. (For example, if a parent says “Now I won’t talk to you”, after their child has done something undesirable or ‘wrong’)
This involves the use of reason and explanation to explain the nature of the misdeed and how it affects the rights and feelings of others, as well as reasons for certain decisions. ((Example: Don’t pull the dog’s tail, it hurts the dog very much. How would you feel if someone pulled your leg?)
Research has found the this technique of induction has found to be the most useful, while power assertion leads to the highest number of undesirable results; not just lack of discipline but also a poorer self esteem of the child. Rather than just set down a rigid set of do’s and don’ts, induction also attempts to explain to the child the reasons for certain parental standards of discipline. In this manner, feelings of empathy and guilt may be aroused in the child, when they are made to think about the plight of others, and the external consequences of their undesirable behaviour. In this way, children tend to internalise the social standards of conduct.
This is in contrast to the technique of power assertion or withdrawal of love, which would instead cause the child to think about the consequences that they face because of their bad behaviour, rather than how their behaviour is affecting others.
For effective disciplining, parents may call upon more than one style of discipline depending on the circumstances. It has been found that many parents claim INDUCTION is useful to make their child show concern for others, and VERBAL POWER ASSERSION is useful when it comes to rough, unruly play. Both these techniques may be used when the child is being reprimanded for lying or stealing.
It is not only the situation that matters, but also the confidence with which the parents can carry out the discipline style. For example, while a mother might be more comfortable with a power assertion style of discipline, the father might be more inclined to an inductive style. Such a divide is alright, and natural in fact. It is essential that for a child to understand their parents’ disciplining style, the parents make sure to use clear and consistent techniques, with set aims. It would not do well for the child to be confused about the message that the parents are trying to get across through their disciplining styles.
The child’s temperament and emotionality also should be considered when deciding discipline styles. Some children who are prone to lowered self esteem would not react well to a harsh technique or using harsh language. The use of withdrawal of love could lead to a child feeling unworthy of a parents’ love, and can greatly affect the child’s confidence level in all activities. It may help if the parents deliver the message in a humorous or indirect manner. (Examples: Who’s supposed to clean up this mess that you made? I’ll give it to you, but first, what’s the magic word?)