Parents often make the common mistake of asking a child why he/she has done something wrong and the standard answer is always: “I don’t know.” Parents should rather ask the children what are the consequences of their actions, and if they answer they don’t know, give them one or two hints, and then encourage them to come up with at least one or two consequences themselves.
Children are very impulsive and especially young children do not appreciate the consequences of their actions, as their prefrontal cortex’ have not yet developed to execute this function. They should be taught from a young age that every action has long-term and short-term consequences. For example the long-term consequences of smoking marijuana would be that the guilty person can acquire a criminal record and would therefore never be able to acquire a work or travel visa to another country. Unprotected sex can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS and pregnancy. Encouraging them to consider and verbally express the consequences of actions, will teach them to think twice before they repeat misbehaviour and it will teach them to become responsible adults.
There is a difference between discipline and punishment.
Discipline refers to good manners, maintaining a clean, orderly and hygienic environment, sticking to schedules, etc. and thus teaching the child to acquire self-discipline. Self-discipline is a healthy habit, which makes interpersonal relations during adulthood easier. Parents may indulge children’s bad table manners, tardiness or untidy rooms, but future colleagues, employers, friends, flatmates and life partners will not and this can lead to interpersonal conflict. No-one likes a person who thinks the world owes him/her something and who expects other people to clean up after them or accommodate their bad habits.
Punishment is the consequence of an offence. Just as a country has a judicial system differentiating between civil and criminal offences, so the judicial system within a household should distinguish between these two elements. Children do not like rules at home, nor in school. Explain to them that even as adults we are bound by rules and laws and since there is absolutely no escaping this anywhere on the planet, the sooner we learn to abide, the less trouble we get in and the better we get along with anyone and everything else on this planet. Laws should always be obeyed, but once one becomes an independent adult or a self-employed adult or parent, there are new rules which one can make, but one earns the right to do this, by acquiring self-discipline.
Civil offences in the home may include the following: not putting laundry in the washing basket, leaving dirty cups in the room, leaving clothing or personal items in the living areas, not cleaning the toilet, bath or bathroom, a messy kitchen, swearing or name calling, etc. The consequences of these civil offences are not called punishment, but rather community service, because the child offended towards the rest of the community in the home and should make some kind of retribution towards the community.
Even if you employ a housekeeper or gardener, it is recommended that children also take responsibility for some communal chores around the home such as picking up dog pooh, cleaning the pool, putting out the dustbin, sorting the washing, sweeping the veranda, etc as this would teach them to become responsible adults who care for the community and their environment. Civil offences and community service may for example include:
Criminal offences in the home, on the other hand are more serious and usually pertain to lying, endangering own or someone else’s safety or lives, violent behaviour including rage and tantrums, etc. These offences are punished either by fines, or by being grounded, just as criminals are fined or sent to jail. Punishment must also fit the crime, for example:
There are only three reasons why people lie, namely 1) not to get into trouble, 2) to protect someone else and 3) to get someone else in trouble on purpose. Children often lie simply because they don’t know what the punishment for an offence would be and they fear getting into trouble. This is usually a sign of inconsistent discipline and severe punishment by parents. Once a child knows exactly what the consequences of his/her behaviour will be, they will be more likely to avoid that behaviour, or to take the punishment.
Parents should instil integrity in their children. A person with integrity does not take other people’s money or possessions, does not lie, does not cheat in business or in private affairs, keeps promises, pay their taxes and licences, can admit when they have made a mistake and he/she can forgive. A person with integrity values the life force of people, animals, nature and possessions and treats these with respect. Children learn by example. If you want your child to grow up to become a law abiding, contributing, productive citizen and make adult life more easily for them, then set the example and tell them verbally about integrity.
It is recommended that both parents together make a list of civil and criminal offences first. This will be called the protocol. Then the children are invited to a round table family discussion and requested to come up with suggestions as to community service and punishments. Make sure they understand the principles of civil offences and community service versus serious crimes and punishment and explain the household functions like the state judicial system.
By asking them to come up with suggestions, the children will have a democratic input into the process. If a person feels he/she has made a democratic input, they are more likely to commit to the venture. (It is not now a case of: “When you live under my roof, you abide by my rules” – Now it is a case of: “We all live under this roof, so you have a say in the rules”). Parents of course have the right to veto suggestions, and just as the government has the right to make laws and determine punishment for serious crimes, parents have the right to set punishment for serious offences.
Differentiate between pre-school, primary school and teenagers. The younger the child, the less severe the service or punishment should be. The older children have more severe community services and punishment, but they also have more responsibility, more cell phone or computer privileges and freedom. Children should learn that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. For instance a grade 10 child may stay out until 10pm, but a grade 12 child until 12pm. Since young children do not go out, they cannot be grounded, but they can be sent to bed early or be barred from watching television in stead.
The protocol of offences and related community services and punishments is then printed out. Each member of the household then signs this protocol as a gesture of commitment. A copy is then given to each member and one is placed for instance upon the fridge door, or behind the toilet. Parents must remember to sign this protocol too and if Mom or Dad offends by forgetting a dirty mug in the lounge then they must do the community service in good spirit. Adults are not above the law and must set a good example.
Once the protocol is singed, there is no bargaining about consequences unless there are true mitigating circumstances. Mitigating circumstances may reduce a consequence, but not set it aside and both parents must agree to it. (A cell phone’s flat battery is not a mitigating circumstance for not alerting a parent to whereabouts. Children are not allowed to leave the premises with a flat cell phone battery – it is an offence. Parents can collect all cell phones at 21h00 and charge the phones. No teenager needs a cell phone after 21h00. They have to sleep. A stolen cell phone is mitigating for not being able to alert a parent, but the child should still face the consequences for not taking responsibility to ensure such an expensive item is safe.)
Children may close their bedroom doors and parents should knock and wait for an invite to enter, but children may not lock themselves in their rooms or bathrooms. Privacy is respected – there is no need to enforce it.
Having such a protocol would cut out on parents nagging children to do things. It’s simple: You did something wrong or neglected to do something, you do the community service or take the punishment, as you committed yourself to the protocol. End of discussion.
Remember, children need at least three compliments for each criticism to build their self-esteem and confidence. Show appreciation for good behaviour and comment on it often.
It is also a good idea to reward children now and then for chores completed, but this is ad hoc and they should not expect a reward. As citizens we are all expected to keep our country clean and treat others with respect without reward. Treating them to a family outing over the weekend since everyone has completed their chores without complaining that week, will be a nice surprise. Allow them to vote as to where they would like to go. A drive to the country, tea, a visit to a museum or an expo, the theatre, horse riding excursion, etc are good examples and will promote quality family time. It would be great if each child can invite a friend along.
It is highly advisable that children receive pocket money. This not only teaches them to budget, appreciate the value of possessions and extend the gratification of their needs, but it also provides leverage for parents to fine or withdraw pocket money as punishment.
Children should pay all social expenses out of their pocket money. These include movie tickets, refreshments or meals when they go to malls, presents for friends, make-up, trinkets, costume jewellery, cd’s, etc.
All items relevant to school projects, sports or trips, some social clothing and essential toiletries should be provided by parents.
The estimated amount should encompass spending money for one or two events per weekend for teenagers. This enables them to save up money for expensive “must haves”. Children have a tendency to pay “cash for trash” and waste their money. Restricting pocket money, will eliminate this nasty habit, teach them to budget and consider twice before they just spend. They can also be encouraged to hold jumble sales, garage sales, etc to earn more money and become entrepreneurs. Parents can encourage savings by for instance contributing a quarter or half of each amount saved.
Children should learn to extend the gratification of their needs, for as adults we know we can’t always just get what we want and the world does not revolve around us. Children older than 16 can work over weekends to supplement income, eg at restaurants etc, but not during exam time. As a rule of thumb, it is advisable that children under 15 can go out one weekend night and older than 16 both weekend nights, provided they stick to curfews and the rules. Only one weekend night is advisable for both groups during exam time.
Many children have cell phones, but parents should restrict their cell phone budgets. They may add to it out of their pocket money. They should be punished if they consume the whole budget and do not have air time left for emergency calls to their parents. Their batteries should also be amply charged before they go out, so they have no excuse for not alerting parents to their whereabouts. It is the child’s responsibility to check this and they should face the consequences if they neglect this. Although we should teach our children to respect other people’s privacy, by respecting their privacy, but parents do have the right to monitor computers and cell phone for pornography and paedophiles and their rooms for drugs. Explain to the child why you do this, if you think you have reason. The police may also enter our premises with a search warrant if they suspect us of illegal conduct. Computers and cell phones used for such purposes can be confiscated.
Parents and children should not be friends on Facebook. It is however recommended that an aunt or some other adult keep an eye on the Facebook page of the child. Random checks on the friends on Facebook, in the company of the child – can be done.
If children sleep over or go out with friends for the evening, they should alert their parents if they change location, even if it is just from one restaurant to another in malls. Children and especially girls should not go to toilets alone in malls. Toilets are often located close to exits and parking lots and children can easily be abducted by grown men and kidnapped. They should always move in groups of three or more. Men’s and ladies’ toilets are also unfortunately located adjacent at the end of long corridors. Adult men can easily drag a young child into the men’s toilets and rape him/her. Children should be made aware that alerting parents of whereabouts is a safety precaution that could prevent rape and murder and has nothing to do with not trusting them.
When divorced parents remarry then they should treat all the children in their home the same. All the children should adhere to the protocol of that home, regardless of the discipline in their other home. It would be excellent if divorced parents could agree with their ex-partners on the same protocol and this should be included in the legal parenting plan. If a child is grounded for a month due to a serious misconduct, then the divorced ex-parent should maintain this grounding even if the child is visiting that weekend. Spiting the other parent by allowing the child to go to a party is not beneficial for the child, for it teaches the child to manipulate and cheat.
The sooner a protocol for desired behaviour is administered in the home, the better, but it is never too late to implement one.
Good luck, enjoy the benefits of your desired behaviour protocol and watch your children to grow up into mature, law-abiding, productive adults.
© Dr Micki Pistorius
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