Insufficient discipline can leave children feeling insecure and parents feeling out of control. But the wrong kind of discipline can affect children’s self-esteem and anxiety later in life because discipline works best when it’s firm but fair.
While a parent’s approach to discipline will also depend on parenting style, or their child’s stage of development, yelling has become the new spanking — a more socially acceptable way to get kids to behave.
“Parents are only human, and it’s only natural when we yell at our kids from time-to-time whenever they challenge us with behaviour problems like rebellion and backtalk,” says Esther Kabageni, a mother of two.
She further explains that yelling is like some kind of automatic response, because when parents are pulled in a million different directions, it is frustrating.
“Imagine you just came back from work after a long day and you see your kids fighting, or your child doing something you don’t approve of, why wouldn’t you just let loose?”
Jackeline Iringaniza, a counsellor in Kigali, however, warns that while it sounds human to yell at those annoying children, if it turns out to be a frequent occurrence in your home, it may be an indicator to consider some alternative ways to communicate with your child.
“When kids undermine our authority, parents often resort to yelling as a way of relaying urgency to a child. This, however, is dangerous because kids are sensitive, and yelling is scary and intimidating for them. So when they behave after you’re screaming it’s because they’re scared and they just want us to stop yelling,” she says.
Iringaniza further explains that the art of disciplining, as opposed to punishing, is all about training. It is all about guiding, instructing, informing and teaching our children how to behave instead of punishing them for their misconduct.
“Depending on the children’s age, just because you told them “no” over and over doesn’t mean they intrinsically understand what they would do differently to receive a “yes.” It’s easy for them to keep up the same behaviours despite the punishment.”
She adds that when children are punished with the intent to have them “pay” for their mistake, it doesn’t help them learn how to make a better choice next time.
“If it occurs to them that poor behaviour gets them attention, they’ll keep doing it. Anything to keep you on your toes,” Iringaniza says.
Disciplining the right way
“Figure out what your push buttons are, because the triggers are different for parents,” says Kabageni.
“That self-awareness will help you make better choices whenever you are pushed to the wall with annoying kids, like taking time off alone or distracting the kids while you go about your work.”
For Stuart Uwizeye, a father of three, yelling can actually be used as a teaching moment for their children.
“Most of us were yelled at and spanked growing up and so they also yell, and this teaches kids that yelling is what everybody does. When they are outside of their homes and get yelled at by a teacher, for example, how they handle it and respond depends on the parent. Parents should normalise apologising when they themselves have messed up and have to apologise to their kids,” he says.
He adds that it’s important to speak in a calm and clear manner.
“The way you speak to your child will be the way your child speaks to you. Tell your child why you are unhappy with his behaviour and what you would like him to do differently going forward,” he says.
Ruth Mutesi, a mother of four-year-old twins, says that with kids mostly below the age of eight, keeping expectations realistic is key. One of the other reasons parents yell, she says, is because they do not come to terms that that stage is too immature to make rational decisions.
“We all know that kids need and love attention. If we don’t maintain the attention we give them from toddlers with positive attention, they will resort to negative ways to get the attention.
“How you feel if your supervisor at work yells at you when you made a mistake, or your partner, friend or family member ‘barked’ at you during a fight is what you should consider when attempting to yell at your child. No matter what the person is trying to say, as human beings we are more inclined to hear that person out and really think about what is being said to you if you are treated with respect and spoken to in a cordial manner. This should be the same when disciplining your child,” she says.