How to Discipline Your Child in Front of His Peers

Disciplining a child in front of his peers requires a certain degree of tact. Here’s how you can do it without making your child feel ashamed and crushed.

By Arun Sharma  • 9 min read

How to Discipline Your Child in Front of His Peers

Let's look at two instances of parents disciplining their children in front of peers.

Scenario 1:

Setting: A scene at home where a family is eating dinner with some guests; there are a lot of children among the guests. 

Child's behaviour: The child in the host's family refuses to eat a particular dish and overturns the plate. 

Parent's reaction: The parent thrashes the child. This elicits giggles and smiles from the other children.

Scenario 2:

Setting: A scene at home where a family is eating dinner with some guests; there are a lot of children among the guests.

Child's behaviour: The child in the host's family refuses to eat a particular dish and overturns the plate. 

Parent's reaction: The parent, so as to avoid creating a scene, cleans up the mess and serves the child whatever he wishes to have.

In both the above scenarios, the parent's reaction to the child's behaviour in front of his peers is wrong. 

Disciplining a child is one of the toughest challenges for parents, as no child likes being disciplined. Almost all of them try to resist complying with how their parents are instructing them to behave. Such an attitude can make parents feel tired, exhausted and frustrated.

And, when children are with their friends, they tend to influence each other’s behaviour. As a result, during such occasions, sometimes, even the most well-behaved kid can act in a manner that may not be deemed appropriate.

Watching their child behaving in a undisciplined manner can make parents intervene. But inappropriate parental intervention in front of a child’s peers can affect his sense of self-esteem. So, how should parents discipline their child in front of his peers? Let’s read on to know more.

1. Pull her aside: A one-to-one conversation is the most effective way of communication. So, when you find that your child is acting inappropriately in front of her peers, call her aside to speak to her. Walk away to a place where others cannot hear what you are saying. Then, tell your child about the poor behavioural choices she is making. Your child will be more receptive of your words when she doesn’t need to worry about others overhearing the conversation happening between the two of you.

2. Wait until you are back home: If it is not possible for you to immediately call your child aside and speak to him in private, wait until both of you get back home. Meanwhile, maintain your composure and resist the urge to let your emotions spill over. Allowing some time to pass before you speak to your child will also help you in analysing how to put forth your point in a more convincing manner.

3. Control your emotions: When children act out in an inappropriate way in the public space, it becomes difficult for parents to maintain a firm grip on their temper. However, losing your cool will only make the situation worse, both for you and your child. Your agitated expression will let everyone, including his peers, know what is transpiring between the two of you. Also, those watching the scene will, in the future, have a less favourable opinion of you. Disapprove of your child’s actions in a calm but firm manner. It will make your child understand that you do not endorse such behaviour, and that you do keep a watch on his actions.

4. Speak in a low voice: Do not raise objections about bad discipline in a loud voice. It will prove embarrassing for your child and may also make her the butt of her friends’ jokes later, which can make the situation worse for her. When you see your child overstepping her limits, call her aside to talk and tell her whatever you have to say in a low voice.

5. Avoid humiliating your child: Humiliating your child only hurts his sense of self-respect and makes him withdrawn. It will never help him realise that he was wrong and should learn the right behaviour. So, never indulge in acts like scolding, criticising or making fun, which will belittle your child. Remember, there is always a respectable way of reproaching your child for his objectionable behaviour and showing him what he should do.

When a parent needs to discipline her child in the presence of the child's friends, her first thoughts are usually about self-judgement, of being judged by others as a parent, and how it would affect her own self-esteem. These alarming thoughts give rise to difficult emotions such as disappointment, embarrassment, frustration or anger. To retrieve her own self-esteem, the parent is likely to discipline her child with harsh comments and punishment, at the cost of affecting the child’s self-esteem.
A parent should bear in mind that the goal of discipline is to build a child's self-esteem, and make him responsible and confident. Also, the parent should learn to exercise self-control while disciplining her child. She should let the child know she loves him, but at the same time that she disapproves of his behaviour. A loving, caring approach, with a firm direction will help bring out the best in both the parent and the child. Do remember that the type of discipline the parent chooses to adopt will influence the kind of person the child will become. So, caution and care should be exercised while disciplining children, especially in front of their peers. —*Arundhati Swamy

6. Keep things short and simple: Speak to your child to convey your objection and what you expect her to do. Don’t give long lectures about discipline as it may embarrass your child.

If parents were to keep these tips in mind while disciplining their children in front of their peers, we will have an altogether different reaction to the situation given at the outset. Here it is:

Scenario 3:

Setting: Same as mentioned above

Child's behaviour: Same as mentioned above

Parent's reaction: The parent calls the child aside and speaks to him in a low but firm voice conveying the fact that such behaviour is not acceptable.

While parents manage to remain patient most of the time, sometimes they lose their cool and indulge in actions that can cast adverse effects on their child’s psychology. 

Here's how being disciplined before peers can affect a child:

  1. Lower the child's self-esteem
  2. Invite aggressive behaviour on the part of the child
  3. Make the child withdrawn
  4. Cause emotional hurt
  5. Affect the psyche

Punishment in any form never helps a child learn anything. Parents should remember that disciplining a child is all about making him think about how he should conduct himself instead of merely following parental instructions.

While disciplining our children, we should remember what the great Greek philosopher Plato had said — “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”

*Arundhati Swamy is a counsellor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle.

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