Rhythm and Discipline in the home

06 April 2020

Now that most of our children are learning at home, parents will be looking to find and maintain a strong rhythm in their daily life. Rhythm is the secret key to discipline schools have always understood, it is also the secret to making children feel secure, it is like ‘a warm blanket’ we can wrap around them. It is a message to their nervous system that some things are still the same in the world and that the life they know really matters.

As parents many of us have a tenuous hold on the sort of rhythm and discipline children experience at school but this is a wonderful opportunity for us to reclaim our dominion as we bring school into our home. Most of us have had school at home for a few days now and it may have been a bit chaotic or formless but it is never too late to map out with your child/ren what the week is going to look like from now on. If you need some authority behind you, I’m sure ‘the school’ would be happy to take responsibility for the directions you are giving your child/ren.

As your child has the school rhythm already built into their body clock it is best to stick with that as much as possible. Insist that your child is dressed and ready to start learning at the usual school time, make sure you are free yourself at this time to see that everyone goes to their assigned place. If you have younger children as well they can also go to their play area at this time.

Keep to the morning tea and lunch times of school, and depending on how particular the instructions are from your teacher, you can do reading and projects first thing, music, art and craft after morning tea and then an outside activity in the afternoon. Outside of school times we need to engage our children in as much of the home life as possible to keep them occupied and to make our own lives easier. Children should be given as many tasks as they can manage like preparing food, cleaning up their rooms daily, packing away the dishes, looking after the garden etc.

The other secret we need to know is how to give directions to our children that they can understand and follow. We must be careful not to disguise our directions as questions (‘would you like to?’) or requests (‘could you please?’) use terms like ‘now its time to’ or ‘you need to’ so there is no ‘wiggle room’. As Ronald Morrish says in his book ‘Secrets of Discipline’ “start small (small request), stay close (don’t get distracted), insist (no room for arguments) and follow through (make sure it happens again next time)”. Once you have established these actions over a few days (it takes longer the older the child) they will become habits. Also try to talk to your children as little as possible, you will see as you try to do this how many unnecessary things you say during the day. If you only speak when necessary, you will notice how your children will start to listen to you.

For children in kindergarten or younger, the rhythm will of course be very different but it is still good to establish a predictable daily rhythm as advised by your teacher or playgroup leader. You can even say to your child ‘you need to play by yourself now until I finish my work’ (this time will depend on the child’s age) and they will know that they cannot disturb you for that time. So long as children have good solid blocks of your undivided attention they should also be able to cope with blocks of time while you do your work. When you do spend time with them you can spend that time doing household chores like hanging out washing or putting it away so that you have the chance to get things done while also being with them. If you spend your time doing chores with them they will be even happier to have some ‘downtime’ to just play while you leave them alone.

Try to resist the temptation to put children in front of screens as this will just make their behaviour worse the rest of the time, reduce their capacity for deep play and encourage them to whinge and whine hoping for more screen time. If you normally have some screen time at night or on the weekend just stick with that, do not allow your screen time to increase as you are bound to regret it. If you do need your child to be occupied in the afternoon for a while without you, audiobooks are a good compromise – use the opportunity to expose your children to some of the classics you may not have had time to read like ‘Swallows and Amazons’ or the Narnia series.

This is not an easy time for parents who are going through their own anxieties, trying to work from home, managing different age children, sickness and trying to keep family life manageable. Of course it will be 3 steps forward and 2 steps back a lot of the time and we can’t do it all at once. Concentrate on school rhythm at first as that is already established and then add your own family rhythms one by one as you see where they are needed. Ultimately this will be healing and relaxing for the whole family and, once an element of predictability has been established there will be a lot more room for love, compassion, kindness and fun in the home.

Mary Heard
Simplicity Parenting