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How else, if not physical punishment?

Children need boundaries to explore the world safely.

In one of our earlier articles, we discussed our stance on the use of physical punishment with children and the potential pitfalls associated with it. One of the reasons we stated leading to the use of physical punishment was a lack of alternative methods, or more accurately, their perception of a lack of choice. In this follow up, we will provide some strategies and guidelines that may help.

Learning to set boundaries and giving consequences

As parents, one of your primary duties is probably to help set boundaries for your children to explore the world safely. Here are some guidelines that may be useful!

  • Be clear – Communicate with your child clearly about expected behaviour (eg. “When we are watching a movie in a theatre, we need to be quiet. If you need to tell me something important, do it softly.”) It would be better if you can run through this some time before the actual event so they have time to absorb the information. You can even practice with them at home if needed. For example, you can watch a movie on television together, and pretend you are in a theatre.

  • Help them understand – This may be more difficult with younger children, but you can try as much as possible to help them understand why it is necessary for them to behave a certain way. Use age-appropriate language where necessary (eg. “We must be quiet because everyone is here to enjoy the movie, and they won’t be able to if we talk a lot.”)

  • Present consequences – Of course, some children may find it difficult to comply with certain expected behaviour. They may want to bounce around instead of sitting quietly in the theatre. If this is the case, you may need to let them know the potential consequences (eg. “If we are not quiet in the theatre, we will have to leave, and no one will be able enjoy the movie if that happens”). Different types of consequences you can use include reducing their play time, taking away certain snacks they really like, time outs, or the removal of any other non-essential item. Just make sure you follow through the consequence, rather than giving in if your child apologises to you. If they do, explain gently to them that even though the apology has been accepted, they have already flouted the rules which needed to be followed.

  • Be consistent and firm – Stick with the same rules. Try not to enforce them one time and ignore them another. This will confuse your child and they will likely find it easier to look for opportunities to defy them. On the other hand, although consistency is important, there are often grey areas that need to be managed with flexibility. Understanding the reason why a child may not be showing expected behaviour will probably help you to decide whether or not you need to go through with the presented consequences or if you may want to consider scaling it accordingly.


As mentioned in the original article, children learn very quickly from the adult figures in their lives. When you notice your child doing something you do not want them to do, it is not unusual for most of us to look outwards and wonder who has been a less than stellar influence. However, I urge parents to also carefully examine their own behaviour. It is often easy to forget that you are one of the adults they spend the most time with!

Are you modelling undesirable behaviour without being aware of it?

On the flip side, knowing this allows you the choice of modelling the kind of behaviour you hope your children will pick up! In other words, you can show them your highest hopes for them. BE the kind of person you hope your child will become.

Paying attention to your child when they are doing well

Many of our children resort to “undesirable behaviour” because they are trying to gain the attention of the parents. In the constant challenge of a juggle between parenthood and work, it is not a surprise that parents sometimes forget that their child also has psychological needs – they want your love and attention! Rather than waiting to pay attention to them when they show negative behaviour, remind yourself to attend to them when they are doing well! Praise and reward them whenever you catch them doing something positive. Try to specify what they are doing well (eg. “I love that you are really putting your effort in this!” or “You did a fabulous job helping out with the chores today”).

In addition, try not to fall into the trap of thinking that desirable behaviour should be the “default” behaviour of children, and are thus, unnecessary to reward (eg. not rewarding your child for a good grade, because it was “expected”).

Build a positive relationship with them and learn to listen

If your child has done something grossly wrong (in your opinion), listen to them and understand their perspective. Most people do not choose to do the “wrong thing” in their minds. Oftentimes, we do things with the best of intentions, only to be waylaid by unexpected variables. There is a reason why we say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Make it a point to hear them out and they may surprise you.

Other than the times you talk to them when they are in trouble, try to spend some time together every week. It may help if you set aside some time on a specific day so that you can always have some bonding time with your child. Learn more about what they have been doing, their interests, and the people they hang out with. Help them sort out their doubts or guide them through difficult times. Giving them the opportunity to talk not only helps you to bond and build a healthy relationship with them, it also gives you a chance to see ahead and ward off potential trouble that may be brewing.

In moments like these, be careful not to become too judgemental when they express their viewpoints to you. Learn to listen to them and they may be able to reciprocate the very same skills you are modelling.

Show them you love them

Typically, children crave for the love and attention of their parents or other caregivers. While there is no need for any big show of love, a simple reminder from time to time would help your children know that you love them deeply (as I am sure you do!), and that there is no need for them to “earn” your affection. If you only remember to praise or be affectionate with them when they achieve something (eg. good grades), they may unknowingly develop such an impression. The fact is that we do not need a reason to show our affection for the people we love! Establishing such a loving relationship will also encourage your child to come to you for help if they do get into unexpected trouble, rather than avoiding you for fear of punishment and leaving them to flounder in difficult times.

And a final note on letting go. As your child grows, they will learn to push and challenge boundaries as they mould themselves into a brand-new identity of who they want to be. In their journey forward, they may end up crossing boundary lines you have set for them or get into an argument with you because of a rule they disagree with. When that happens, it may be helpful for you to reconsider the boundaries you have set. When did you set those boundaries? Are they still relevant now? What could be an alternative? After you consider these, set aside time to discuss it with your child to understand their reasons for being upset, and for them to better understand why certain boundaries need to be in place. In fact, you could even ask them for suggestions and see if they are reasonable enough to implement. This way, you encourage them to understand the situation from your perspective and take charge of their own growth.

As little children grow into their own persons, it may get tougher and tougher for them to listen to you entirely. But that is perhaps the natural course of things. After all, they also need to learn to listen to their own hearts and minds, ones that you have so painstakingly guided and loved. As they get more and more independent, I believe it really is just a testament to all your hard work. Thank you, parents. You have a tough job, and I hope whatever nugget of information here may be helpful to you in finding a gentle, loving way of guiding your child on their growth.

Written by Felicia

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