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Steve Biddulph's Firmlove

Steve Biddulph, acclaimed parenting expert and psychologist and author of the internationally renowned Raising Boys and Raising Girls books, shares his thoughts on discipline. 

Discipline is a funny thing – you notice it most when it isn’t there. Everyone knows someone with a completely out-of-control child and many of us have one of our own! Getting cooperation is a problem at times for almost every parent. Most British parents today are confused about discipline.

We all long to have well-disciplined kids for one simple reason – it makes life go more smoothly.

A small number of parents, on the other hand, seem to have it all sorted out. What is their secret? These parents call their toddler to ‘come along now’ and the toddler actually comes! Their ten-year-old cooks tea for the family. Their teenagers phone to say they’ll be home early. And these kids are not frightened mice – they’re happy, optimistic and relaxed. How do these parents do it?

We all long to have well-disciplined kids for one simple reason – it makes life go more smoothly. Giving in to kids doesn’t make life easier. Parents who are reluctant to set boundaries find that their kids just get worse. Without clear rules, you and your child may spend the whole day hassling and everyone feels bad at the end of it. Whereas if you have a discipline method that works quickly, problems are soon solved and you can get on with being happy. 

There is more to it though. We don’t discipline kids just for our own sakes – just to have ‘law and order’. After all, if you want an orderly life, you don’t have kids. The real purpose of discipline is to teach children to operate happily and easily in the world.

Firmlove methods are respectful to children, are non-violent, and yet clearly place parents in charge. 

The approach to discipline we recommend is called firmlove– it is intervening out of love for your child. A parent using firmlove says ‘I love you, and that’s why I will stop you behaving like this.’ They combine love and firmness. They never hit, they never harm, they never blame. But they are firm.

Firmlove recognises that discipline is about getting involved and teaching. Discipline is not about punishment. Firmlove means confronting children, certainly, and letting them handle some discomfort, but never inflicting pain. The aim of firmlove is simply to help children find better ways. It rests on two main techniques – the first is called ‘stand and think’ and the second is called ‘dealing’.

‘Stand and think’ and ‘Dealing’

1. Preparation. Ask yourself ‘What do I want them to do to fix it?’ In other words, have a clear goal before you start.
2. Learning to stand and think is a skill in itself. With a toddler, take them to the spot you have decided on and tell them ‘You have to stay there until you are ready to agree. You can come out when you’ve calmed down.’ Make it easy for them to get it right.
3. With older children, the conversation is important. They have to convince you that things are going to be different. They have to ‘talk their way out’ and convince you they can act differently. Another good name for this is ‘dealing’. They are learning to ‘deal’. Tell them their task –‘Stand there and think about what you did to get into this trouble. As soon as you’ve figured it out, I’ll come and we’ll talk about it.’
4. The ‘dealing’ conversation – ask them:
a. ‘What did you do?’. Owning up to one’s actions is important.
b. ‘What were you feeling or needing?’
c. ‘What should you have done to meet your needs?’ Do they know a better way?
d. ‘What are you going to do in future?’ Getting a commitment.
e. ‘Show me.’ Go ahead and do it right now – get it right this time.
5. Aim for a happy ending. The beauty of ‘dealing’ properly like this is that the issue is resolved. You invest some time right now, and the problem need never recur (well, maybe once or twice). You’ll know that this was successful because you end up feeling better, and your child feels better. Everyone is redeemed. 

Firmlove methods are respectful to children, are non-violent, and yet clearly place parents in charge, making it easier and much more enjoyable to produce young adults who are strong, loving and safe.

This extract was taken from The Complete Secrets of Happy Children by Steve and Shaaron Biddulph, published by HarperCollins. Steve Biddulph’s new book, 10 Things Girls Need Most, is out now, published by HarperCollins, £16.99.

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