Kate Livingstone: Take time out over discipline

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How to discipline children is always an interesting – and often heated, debate.

According to my mum, I was too soft on my two, and of course, I think daughter Emma lets her two away with murder.

‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ used to be my parents’ mantra and, although they never used a rod, I did, deservedly I must admit, receive a ‘skelp’ across the legs on more than a few occasions when I stepped out of line.

My late father was the mildest mannered man you could hope to meet, but if he heard me give cheek to my mother – and yes, I must confess that I did – he would resort in quick smack.

The sting on my legs would have disappeared long before my injured pride recovered and the fact that my dad had been VERY annoyed with me.

Now before the anti-smacking lobbyist get on their high horses, I’m not advocating that physical punishment of children is right. We’ve all moved on since those days and I’ll keep my views on that subject strictly to myself.

However, we do still need to instil discipline in our children but it’s how we do it that’s the subject up for discussion.

Do you stop them using their electronic devices? Usually works for older youngsters.

Do you make them sit on the ‘naughty step’? Popular with those who have younger children, but I must admit that I tried it with Emma’s oldest and forget the poor wee soul was sitting out in the hall! He’d been there for what seemed like ages so I ended up giving him a treat and letting him watch his favourite DVD which probably negated the punishment handed out in the first place.

According to new research I read this week (and it is from the US so already I’m dubious) using ‘time out’ is not going to harm children or their relationship with you.

But then some UK psychologist has weighed in saying the key is how the technique is used, and for good measure adding not all children responded to authoritarian forms of discipline.

Apparently the keys to time out are “calmness; consistency; positive environment; planning of the process beforehand; making both parents and children understand it; and to avoid shouting”.

We should be warm and authoritative, not authoritarian.

Sounds reasonable, but perhaps it’s just as easy to count to ten ...