By Sandy Egan
Once a child begins to walk, talk and think on their own, discipline becomes much more varied and interesting. Most children reach this next phase at around second grade. Some reach it sooner (my daughter), and others later (my son). When they reach this level, there are other factors that heavily influence reaching this stage, such as the child’s basic personality. If I were to draw a parallel between my daughter and my niece, I would say that my daughter needed very clear boundaries and discipline, whereas my niece (who is actually almost two years older), did not need nearly as much intervention at that point.
Simply put, they were completely different children. My niece tended to be quiet, shy and she would avoid conflict if possible. My daughter, however, thrived on conflict and managed to do things that never would occur to my niece to do.
I am comparing two girls because sometimes there is a stereotype between “boy” types (rambunctious) and “girl” types (quiet, civilized). In my experience, personality is a much more important differentiation than sex.
It is important first to decide what you will discipline and what you will not. What are the rules? Each family is different. A child must know, repeatedly and concretely, what rules apply to your family and what don’t. A child should know what is okay to do in your house and what is a no-no. What is true for your house may not be true for a friend’s home, but your own rules for your child should be very clear and should not vary much. If eating food in the family room is not okay on Monday, it shouldn’t be okay on Tuesday, and so on.
Establishing firm rules makes a child feel secure because he will know what to expect if he is following the rules and if he isn’t. In addition, if Mommy says no food in the family room, it should be the same if Daddy is there and Mommy isn’t. Trust me, conflicts will arise if there is more than one parent, but you must be as consistent as possible.
I can guarantee that you will disagree with each other about what’s okay and what’s not when the kids are small, and more so when they get older. Just try very hard to work it out together, away from the child if possible, so that you can parent with a united front. Sometimes you will have to bend to his rules and sometimes he will have to concede his. You will argue about this, but do the best you can. Remember, you both grew up in different households and you played by different rules in each one.
It’s a little bit like combining a soccer game and basketball game.
School-age kids, up until around grade six, are generally the easiest to discipline. This is because they can usually understand cause and effect, consequence and action. They are still small enough to be smaller than most adults and still hold the belief that adults are a separate species from themselves. They are not babies anymore, so they can be denied a favorite toy as a form of discipline, denied television, understand that behavior is related to privilege (i.e., if you don’t stop making so much noise, we won’t go to the movies because that is not acceptable behavior).
The balance of power between child and parent is very lopsided right now, in favor of the parent. Physically, we are bigger and stronger. Mentally, we have education and experience to draw on that heavily favors us. Economically, we have control over what they receive or don’t receive.
In fact, almost everything that a child this age has is a direct result of you (This does not include, excuse or endorse abuse in any way. Abuse is a separate issue and shouldn’t happen.).
This may be overstating the obvious, but I can’t begin to explain how many parents of children this age allow a child to have the upper hand. One example that stands out for me: When I was watching a group of children and a mother came in with her six-year-old and he didn’t want to stay with the group and turned to his mother, demanding (yes) that she would have to buy him X candy and go to Y in order to have him stay with the group. She promised him and gave me a tortured look.
“I’m so sorry, he just gets like this sometimes.”
I was astounded by this, and after mom left he began to work on me. He wanted some candy from the candy machine that was outside the room. Since his mom had asked me not to give him any sweets, I told him “no” and he proceeded to get very upset and said he was going out there himself to get it and tried to grab my purse to get money for it. This was very simple for me. I first put the purse out of his reach (he was only about three and a half feet tall and weighed 30 pounds). Next, I closed the door and stood in front of it. Since he couldn’t reach the money, and since he couldn’t move me, he finally understood who was in charge; and that he wasn’t going anywhere he wasn’t supposed to. Once he understood this, he stopped hollering about it and played with the other kids.
I firmly believe that what he really wanted was for some adult to take a stand and say no to him.
There is a reason why kids are born to adults and the balance of power is this way. We have to establish this authority at this age so that the child understands that the adults in his life are there to protect him from the outside world and to protect them from themselves. The world is a big, scary, hurtful place and they need to know that there is a buffer between them and the big bad world. You are it.
I cannot emphasize how important the establishment of this authority is at this age. Psychologically, the child must be convinced of your authority. Why?
Well, that’s going to be the next part of this article. The balance of power changes. It’s coming, and it is unavoidable. Get ready. Your treasure, your heart, your baby, is going to be a teenager!