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Disciplining your kids

One of the most difficult tasks parents face is handling unruly children. Such kids either throw tantrums in public or scream at a supermarket if they don't get what they want.

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One of the most difficult tasks parents face is handling unruly children. Such kids either throw tantrums in public or scream at a supermarket if they don't get what they want. Friday offers a few helpful tips to bring them under control...

Parents want practical solutions to deal with their children's everyday behaviour. No matter what the child's age, all parents are faced with unruly behaviour and it helps to know that you are not alone. The next time you haul your screaming toddler out of a supermarket, don't feel embarrassed - that lady with a knowing smile is not mocking you but probably remembering a time when she did something very similar with her three-year-old. Friday picks a few tough discipline questions and comes up with some solutions that parents should find helpful.

How can I get my two-year-old to stop hitting others?

Some toddlers have the bad habit of hitting not just other children but their mothers, too. If he hits you, say "No hitting' and leave the room rightaway. With toddlers, actions speak louder than words, and this is the best way of showing him that you will not stay near him when he hits you. Never hit the child back as this will only encourage the behaviour you are trying to stop.

Should your toddler hit another child in your presence, immediately take him away from the scene and hold him quietly for a few minutes. After he has calmed down, show him how to touch people gently. Tell him he has to use words to get what he needs. Even if he can't actually say the words yet, it's important to start emphasising this from a young age. Stay close to your child when he is playing with other kids so that you can move him away before he hits the other child.

Remember, your child won't get the message the first, second, or even the third time you try to teach him not to hit. But, if you are consistent, the lesson will eventually sink in.

My four- and eight-year-olds have started swearing frequently

Swearing and curse words have unfortunately become a part of our everyday life: foul language is considered funny and cool. Have a respectful discussion with your children about why they think people curse, why it seems cool, and how this can affect others. Ask them to come up with some solutions, for example, can they replace those words with other creative (and less offensive phrases)? Or, you could make a family rule that if anyone (this includes Mum and Dad) uses a curse word, they have to put a coin in a jar.

My three-year-old throws tantrums in public when I refuse to buy him a toy

Children will do anything to get what they want. Once your son discovers that everytime he throws himself on the floor you give in, he will keep having tantrums. Pick him up without hesitation and take him outside to a car or bench. When he calms down ask him if he's ready to go back inside. If he isn't, you should drive back home. Tantrums also tend to occur when children are hungry, tired or overstimulated. So if you have been unable to distract him and sense he is ready to blow up, leave the mall as quickly as possible.

How do you punish a toddler?

Toddlers do exactly what you tell them not to do and this can be quite maddening. They are too young to understand time-out (an understanding of cause and effect begins around the age of three) and it's hard to find a way to 'punish' them.

Child expert Jane Nelsen suggests that the three key ways to discipline children under the age of three is: supervise, distract and redirect. 'Childproof' your home in such a way that your child is physically safe and can be easily supervised.

Distracting a toddler is very easy: if she insists on climbing on the table, lift her and play hide-and seek with a napkin. Then redirect her energy into crawling under rather than on the table. Be patient: you might have to repeat this many, many times before she realises the table is off-limits.

Dr. Onita Nakra has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Minnesota, U.S.A. Her specialisation is in assessment, diagnosis and intervention methods for children with special needs.