Sheila and I were talking about children — child discipline, to be specific, when she started complaining about Mueni, her six year old daughter. She told me, “Aki Chris, yesterday wasn’t I so annoyed with my daughter!” She recounted how Mueni wouldn’t listen and wanted to do her own thing the previous evening. “She really wanted to go out to play, as she always does, but I wouldn’t let her,” Sheila explained.
I asked if this was a daily routine for Mueni. “You see, I picked her up from school an hour later than I usually do,” Sheila went on. “And when we got home, there was no time to play, do her homework, take a bath, have her supper and be in bed by 8 p.m.” Sheila recalled her frustration at Mueni’s seeming indiscipline — inability to do the simplest of sums. “Let’s just say by the time we went to sleep last night we were both a basket of nerves!”
To understand where Mama Mueni was coming from, we needed to back up a little. I asked her: “Who was late in picking up the child? The mother.”
We both observed that from this simple event of mummy lateness, there was a domino effect: the rest of Mueni’s evening activities of play, homework, bath, eat, and sleep were shifted. Evidently, Mueni was irritated, but her mother did not get it. Her mother couldn’t help but wonder why her little “indisciplined” baby girl couldn’t see that life is about making sacrifices.
“So, what am I supposed to do?” asked Sheila, with a frown on her face, with arms outstretched and fists clenched.
I advised her, simply: “Apologise to Mueni.” “Really?” she responded. “Whatever for?” Clearly, Mama Mueni hadn’t got it. In positive parenting, children never make mistakes — they react to situations using the same methods you have taught them either directly or by your own behaviour. For instance, you need to learn how to discipline a child without yelling or how to stop yelling when angry, if you do not want a yelling child.
I found this conversation remarkable because it came after I had got insights from recent sessions on parenting I had been having with a counselling psychologist. This was in the context of how to punish a child for bad behavior. I had had a breakdown in my relationship with my 15 year old son, HRH. My frequent experience in his presence was frustration, resentment and resignation. I was consulting the psychologist to set up an appointment for him to see my son, so that he could teach my son good manners and how to respect authority, namely, me.
To my surprise, the counselling psychologist had asked to see me first, all by myself. In the subsequent sessions, it dawned on me that he may not have to do any sessions with my son. Maybe only to inform HRH how much I – the parent – had grown, understood child discipline dynamics and changed during my weeks of discussion with the psychologist. Nkt!
It had been my first encounter with concept of parents’ rights, which correspond with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I was shocked to learn that parents, too, have rights. My initial thought was to make a large poster of these rights and place them next to HRH’s Man U poster that hung on his bedroom wall. Or perhaps above it. I am sure that as HRH’s dad and progenitor, I come above Man U on my son’s food chain.
Frankly speaking, over the two months of weekly session where I shared my child discipline experiences with the counsellor, I was getting concerned at how much of my own behaviour was responsible for the way my son was treating me. There was, nay, is nothing wrong with my son. He is a typical teen trying to discover and establish his own identity. The goal posts I have set for him are really meant to make me – not him – feel peaceful and satisfied. But these goal posts have not worked, because my son is not on earth to serve me. He is my child; not my slave or angel.
So I have come to the conclusion that parenting is for parents. Period. Parents need to acquire and develop skills to successfully navigate their parenting obligations. Parents need become sufficiently skilled in listening. To effectively communicate about problems. Genuinely encouraging and disciplining – not rewarding or punishing – their children. That was my main take from my eight counselling sessions.
Enforcing discipline is traditionally viewed as an activity to reward good behaviour or punish bad behaviour. In other words, such a disciplinary approach is meant to make children become responsible for all their behaviour. However, discipline should be about exposing ourselves and our children to the consequences of the choices we make regarding ALL behaviour, not just ‘bad’ behaviour.
For instance, a possible consequence of HRH choosing to complete his holiday homework in good time is that he has more time to engage in rest and have fun through leisure activities. Same goes for me. When I choose to begin a writing assignment way before the deadline it gives me more time to research, revise and edit it and deliver a gem.
Later, I received a text message from an evidently relieved Sheila. It stated: “I apologised and she accepted easily. Thank you. (It) would be great to get more insights and info and skills for Parenting. Sheila” It signified, to me, that being a responsible parent is way cooler and certainly more fulfilling than being a “good” one. It is positive parenting that results in unforced child discipline.