The other day my 6 year-old daughter stole $20.00 from my drawer so she could buy an ice-cream cone with her friends.
In situations such as this, often the immediate response is to smack the child for flagrant disobedience. However, if we want to pass on a model of self-restraint, patience and gentleness – even in the face of provocation – we need to learn to contain our own anger and find alternative, but effective ways to discipline.
There are many simple and effective discipline methods a mother may use as alternatives to hitting. Here are three techniques that I have used with great success.
When you want your child to stop an unacceptable behaviour, simply count slowly but firmly, “One, two, three.” This simple 1-2-3 Count can be surprisingly effective in getting children to stop talking, arguing, playing with toys, or refrain from what they are doing.
Example 1: Laila has finished eating her plate of spaghetti. You tell her to get up from the table to put her plate away. She dawdles and plays at the table ignoring you.
Mother: Laila, I’ll count to three and I want you out of your chair, taking your plate to the kitchen, one…two…three.
Laila promptly takes her plate to the kitchen.
If Laila continues to ignore you, you may deprive her of a privilege, toy or some other form of entertainment or enjoyment. A star can be removed from her “Star Chart” as well. I will speak more about “Star Charts” later, insha’Allah.
Example 2: Musa is playing a game on the computer. You have asked him several times to get off the computer and make wudhu for salah.
Mother: Musa, I’ll count to three and I want you off the computer, one, two, three.
Musa gets off the computer.
If Musa fails to get off the computer at the count of three, you may take away Musa’s computer privilege for an hour, until the next salah, or deprive him of a privilege.
The 1-2-3 Count system is usually successful from the time it is instituted, but some children may take longer to adjust to the new programme. If your child fails to comply at the count of three, withhold a privilege, something they value or remove a star from their Star Chart.
Older siblings such as pre-teens and older teens may try to lead you into a debate over your penalty. Avoid engaging in such conversations and stick to your decision.
The Count system is a valuable tool, because it also teaches children the important life-lesson that actions bear consequences.
Another effective discipline method is “Time Out.” When your children are misbehaving, send them to their room. With a little patience in the beginning, this method can be a dream come true.
Example: Laila has a problem, hitting her older brother whenever he teases her. And her older brother gets a big kick out of teasing Laila.
Laila: Mommy, Musa said I’m dumb!
Musa: You are dumb!
Laila: “Ahhhh!” She slaps Musa on the back.
Musa: Ha, ha, ha, ha!
Mother: Musa, go to your room for teasing – 10 minutes. Laila, go to your room for hitting – 5 minutes.
It gets easier after everyone gets the hang of it. In the beginning you may get a few temper tantrums from the younger ones such as 5 year-old Laila. If she refuses to go to her room, gently carry her to the room. After a few sessions, she’ll catch on to the routine, insha Allah.
Now, smile and release that relaxing breath of air- you have a break from the madness, and you’ve let both kids know their actions are unacceptable.
Remember, every year in age is the number of minutes your child remains in time out. Laila is 5 so she spends 5 minutes; her brother is 10, so he spends 10 minutes. For the more challenging child who might kick the wall, throw things or yell, you may add a minute for each infraction. For some “high maintenance” children, you can tell them their time starts whenever they’ve calmed down. A timer with an alarm can be useful for “Time Out.” Tell your child you are setting the timer for the appropriate time and when she hears the alarm, her time is up. This can prevent the continuous wail of “Can I come out now?”
“Pat-on-the-Back” is a system that compliments your child for good behaviour. It seems to be the most difficult method of all for parents to use. It’s so easy for us to find fault with our children, but when they behave well, we fail to praise them and show our pleasure. How would you feel if from morning to night you had to listen to constant complaints: don’t do this, do that; didn’t I tell you, stop it…? You’d probably feel angry, unsure of yourself, agitated and have low self esteem.
Pat-on-the-Back necessitates retraining your thought patterns. You have to actually look for good deeds and behaviours from your children and praise them. We all like our efforts acknowledged. Our kids do too.
When your son gets off the computer next time without you counting, let him know you appreciate his promptness. When you compliment him, he will feel more inclined toward obeying you next time. You might also find an improvement in other areas of his behaviour as an unexpected side benefit.
In addition to praise, also offer rewards. You can start a “Star Chart” system with your child. Write your child’s name on a sheet of paper. When you see Laila, for instance, using phrases that you’ve taught her such as, “When you tease me, I get angry, so please stop,” give her a star. When she gets 10 stars, take her shopping to buy a toy, play a game with her or let her bake cookies with you. Use your imagination and make a list of rewards your child will be inclined to strive for. Share it with your child. Even better, let her select the rewards herself.
Taking the high road
Children are not perfect and neither are parents. But we can continue to learn and improve our parenting skills. Learning effective parenting skills is a wonderful way to help us become more merciful in the way we raise our children.
It is reported that The Prophet (SAW) said “O Ayesha! Indeed there is nothing that has gentleness in it except that it beautifies it, and it is not taken away from anything except that it defaces it” (Muslim).
You still might be wondering how I handled my 6 year-old who stole my $20.00. Well, she had recently won $50.00 from an art contest at school. I took back the $20.00 she had stolen and talked to her about the injustice of stealing and about being a good Muslim.
None of the three methods above will prevent children from being children, in particular those with autism, ADHD and strong wills. These methods simply give mothers alternatives to using spanking as a disciplinary tool.
Resources and Recommended Reading:
The following is a list of resources on effective parenting and discipline that may be helpful for mothers:
How to Behave so Your Children Will, Too, Sal Severe, PhD.
1-2-3 Magic Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, Thomas W. Phelan, PhD.
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk at Home and in School, Adele Faber and Elain Mazlish.
Umm Ayisha is the mother of eleven children with more than twenty-five years’ experience teaching at an Islamic school.