Back in the 1980s, my parents had a heap of sticks tucked away in their bedroom that they used to groom and transform my siblings and I into gracious adults.
We had to do things their way. Although they did not beat us unnecessarily, I have childhood memories of being beaten for fighting with my brothers, dodging house chores and coming home late. My parents stopped caning me when I joined university.
Getting children to behave appears to be rocket science for some parents. Many worry about stricking a balance between being permissive and authoritative.
Being a father myself, I have realised that children may be born with a number of innate abilities, but being polite is not one of them. Children shout back at their parents when they are asked to do a simple task. Many unpleasant mannerisms manifest among children of different age groups. Yet you are duty-bound to teach your children to behave in society because a well-mannered child will stand out in today’s world for all the right reasons.
Tonny Makumbi, a father of three, says by the time a child shouts back at their parents, it is not only a sign of indiscipline and disrespect but also shows that the child controls the parent or guardian.
He is however quick to suggest better means of punishing children. “For example, you can deprive the child of something they like. Many children like to watch television. You can punish them by withdrawing TV for three months,” Makumbi advises.
He adds: “Stick to your punishment, actualise it and do not lose track along the way. Do not feel sorry for the child until you are sure they have learnt a lesson from their actions.”
Shiba Nassuna, a mother of two, notes that children learn what they see or hear. “When children are growing up, they imitate what they hear their parents and other people around them say or do. If you do not identify unbecoming behaviour at an early age, children grow up believing it is normal to act a certain way,” Nassuna says.
Nassuna adds: “Between the age of three to 10, children tend to obey instructions from their parents or guardians. This is the best time for you to instil discipline.”
According to Very Well Family- an online portal, grandma’s rule of discipline is a simple but effective way to get your child to comply. Instead of telling your child what he cannot do, tell him how they can earn a privilege.
Instead of saying, “If you do not pick up right now, you will not be able to play outside,” say, “You can play outside as soon as you finish picking up your toys.” Then, walk away and leave it up to your child to pull himself together. You also might try saying things like, “When you lower your voice and talk calmly, I will answer you,” or “I will play with you when you stop being bossy.” Teach your child that polite and kind behaviour yields positive results.
The grandma urges parents to use “if…then,” statement to warn a child about what will happen if their behaviour does not change. Say, “If you do not stop interrupting when I am on the phone, you will need to go to your room.”
“This gives your child an opportunity to change his behaviour. Just make sure you are fully prepared to follow through with a negative consequence if the child does not comply. Avoid repeating your warnings over and over again. Otherwise, you will be training your child not to listen,” the portal suggests.
Agatha Kisakye, a child psychologist, notes that much of the time, children are unaware of their mannerisms. They are simply living and enjoying childhood.
“Children act out of curiosity and it is this curiosity that is the birth place of their creativity that we adults end up calling mannerisms,” Kisakye explains.
According to Kisakye, some mannerisms in children are not as bad as they are projected. But because adults have not seen them from the child’s point of view, parents term them as mannerism and punish children for them.
“As a result, you end up abusing your children. Some mannerisms come up because the children are reacting to the way they are being treated. It is not always that we must seek to deal with the child’s mannerism. Sometimes it is a parent who has to adjust,” Kisakye advises.
But in cases where a child exhibits an undesired behaviour, Kisakye says talking to the the child about it is the best thing to do. “If this approach fails, set behavioural change goals that can help your children get on a change journey. Be supportive, positive and patient with the child and reward them for changed behaviour,” she concludes.
Make sure that your expectations are appropriate to your child’s age and development level. You can start working with a toddler on the basics of saying “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry.”By the time your child is a teenager, you should be focusing on advanced skills and more complex communication skills.
Focus on one thing at a time—like basic table manners. If you give your child too much to learn at once, he/she may become overwhelmed. It is common too for previous skills to be revisited from time to time.