ASK THE EXPERT: Smacking teaches children to lash out when things don’t go their way, writes DAVID COLEMAN .

I have a two- and three-year-old. How do you discipline when the younger one is the bully, and has a very demanding personality? She throws tantrums when disciplined while the older one at least accepts that she has been bold. I discipline them in the same way. Mind you, I have to threaten, punish, or spank them before they listen, and they are constantly fighting. Please give me some advice before I lose all my hair with them. 

Relying on punishment or the threat of punishment as your only way of dealing with your children’s behaviour is a very disheartening position to be in. It can feel like you are trapped in a very negative cycle of interaction with them. They get frustrated, they fight; when they fight, you get cross; if you get cross, you punish; once you punish, they get more upset; as they get more upset and frustrated, you punish further and so it will continue.

I am choosing to take your query as a plea to find a way to break this negative cycle and I am delighted to do so. As things stand, your home life will only get worse and your children will only become more badly behaved. You definitely need to do something different and I think you need to take a root-and-branch approach to changing your parenting style.

Most toddlers are not maliciously bad. Certainly they can throw tantrums, get frustrated and act without thinking, but this is a natural consequence of being so young. What they need to learn is what they should be doing and how they should be acting, not simply getting told, or punished for, what not to do.

I am not surprised to hear that your children fight constantly because many children of this age have a low tolerance for frustration and can easily react in a physical way. Remember too, that by threatening and spanking them you are role modelling an aggressive way of interacting with others. It may be that this too influences their decision to hit out at each other

First among your tasks in changing what you do is to stop spanking entirely. Hitting children inevitably leads to a worsening of their behaviour.

Most parents only ever slap or spank as a last resort when they themselves feel frustrated and cross with their children’s continued misbehaviour. This then perpetuates a cycle of physically lashing out when things don’t seem to go your way.

The other danger for parents who slap is that, as slapping loses its effectiveness as a punishment (which it will do), the temptation is to up the ante in terms of the frequency with which you slap or the strength with which you slap as a means of trying to “get through” to your child. This could lead to children being seriously hurt.

Once you eliminate slapping, the next step to teaching your children how to behave well is to focus on building a positive relationship with them. This kind of relationship will help you to break the negative cycle of interaction with them.

You can build a more positive relationship by spending more time playing with them and having fun with them. As you do this you will find that managing their behaviour becomes much easier.

Use distraction as a method for diverting them from potential rows or fights. Make games out of tasks like tidying up, dressing, bathing and so on. You are much less likely to get opposition from them if things seem like fun and if you seem to be relaxed and enjoying being with them. In addition, you can try to “catch them being good” and start to really notice and comment on their good behaviour.

So, if you notice them playing calmly alongside each other for a few minutes then praise them for it, even if they were fighting a few minutes before this and return to fighting a few minutes after.

I would guess that some of their misbehaviour is designed to get your notice. If you start to attend to them more for their good behaviour they will learn that they can get as much, if not more, attention for being good.

Simply spending fun time with them on occasion also allows them to feel noticed and attended to in positive ways.

By ignoring a lot of the minor tantrums and misbehaviour that is not dangerous you will further strengthen their unconscious awareness that they get more of a relationship with you for being well behaved, than for being badly behaved.

The final thing to remember is that it is hard work parenting two toddlers. Even on the good days it can be tiring and stressful. So try to give yourself some time off (to be able to see beyond the treadmill of the daily chores of parenthood).

The more relaxed and positive you feel, the easier you will find it to be positive with the children. The calmer you remain in dealing with them, the more effective you will be.

Source: Irish Times –