ASK THE EXPERT
November 2014
Category: Behavioral Issues

I am mother of three boys, ages 10, 8 and 5 years. My husband is frequently posted in hard areas so I have been raising my sons alone most of the times. When I had only one child, I had no issues managing his behavior and routine but with three children I have my hands full. I am not a very strict mother and let them have their way but then there are times they get totally out of control,don’t sleep on time or finish their work and fight with each other. In such situations, I end up scolding and hitting them. I do try not to resort to hitting, but they take advantage of my lenience. I live with my in laws and they keep telling me to bring about some discipline in their lives. I don’t want to be too hard on them as they miss their father. Please guide me how I can get them to become disciplined without my having to resort to punishments and hitting.

 

Dear Parent,
Thank you for sharing your situation openly and honestly by highlighting what you think might be going wrong in this situation. Your need to provide the best for your children, in the absence of their father is understandable and the fact that you have to raise them on your own may add to the stress. Often times, a single parent tries to compensate for the absence of the other parent by either letting children do whatever they want to or/and showering them with expensive gifts. You seem to be facing a somewhat similar situation where you don’t want your children to miss the fact that their father is not around by not being strict with them about their daily chores and habits.

While your children’s behavior will be affected by changes in the family (in your situation frequent absence of your husband), It is important to know that you can address the father’s absence and their having to follow a general discipline as separate issues.

You can talk to them in ways that elicits their feelings about the father’s absence and how best they can cope with it. For example, you can ask them; ‘How do you feel when abu is not around? What do you miss most about him? Why do you think he is not here with us? How can we best keep connected with him? What is it that you think you can do/we can do as a family to deal with some of the feelings you shared?  It is important that you listen to their concerns and fears so that you can address them accordingly. Many children tend to blame themselves for the father’s absence and it is important that this be clarified. Do share their thoughts with your husband next time when he is around, so that  you can address some of the concerns and feelings as a family, in an age appropriate way.

As for the issue of disciplining, it is important to remember that by following too extremes i.e. being overly lenient to being extremely strict and physically harsh does no do much to teach children any discipline. While there are many things that you can do, I am sharing some common things that might help, which would need to be used age appropriately and consistently over a period of time for them to be most effective.

  • Have your children follow a routine by setting some norms related to meal times, homework, sleep and play. Rules and norms regarding behaviors such as cleaning up the room, hitting, shouting etc. could also be made. You can involve your older children in making the norms, so that they own these. Keep some rules flexible say over the weekend or when someone is visiting while make sure that others are strictly followed.
  • Set some logical consequences in case the norms are not followed. A logical consequence is a related and reasonable consequence to the behavior. For example, the logical consequence of not finishing the homework would be taking some time out of the playtime to make sure that the work is finished. Make sure that the consequences are given in a respectful, non-derogatory manner and are communicated to the children in advance.
  • Reinforce you children’s positive behavior. For example, when your older child does not hit the younger sibling or when one of them finishes his work on time, appreciate and acknowledge this behavior genuinely. We tend to pay more attention when children behave negatively as opposed to when they behave positively.
  • Keep talking to your children and asking them about their day to day issues. This helps deal with the emotional ups and downs of daily life and the difficult behaviors that maybe a result of those emotions.

Best of luck! Do share your experience of trying them out and I will suggest some more next time.