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A Lesson in Discipline: Rules, Regulations and Perspectives

A couple of days back, Gavin bit Gareth. They were playing in a bucket of water in the shower while I was arranging their things in the bathroom. So although I was present, I was not watching them specifically. Then Gavin calls to me, “Mummy, look at Didi’s arm.” I went to inspect Gareth’s arm and I see teeth marks. Gareth had not cried or fussed so I would not have known about it if Gavin hadn’t brought the fact to my attention.

Gavin is not a biter. He is generally a gentle boy. So to discover that he bit his brother really surprised me. Naturally I went ape at him and I scolded him severely. A little later I tried to ponder over why he would bite his brother. I wondered if he was trying to get my attention by misbehaving. It is common for children to misbehave when they feel they aren’t getting enough attention. That day, I had lunch with some friends so I wasn’t as attentive towards him as I normally would have been when we have lunch alone.

I didn’t want him to think that biting was okay, so I put him in a corner to ponder his actions while I put Gareth down for a nap. When I asked him why he did it, he couldn’t answer me.

Yesterday, after relating the incident to my SIL, she sheepishly confessed that the biting may have been inspired by her actions. She was playing with Gavin and gave him a gentle bite on his arm. It was all in good fun. Now I’m wondering whether Gavin tried to do the same thing with Gareth thinking it would be a “fun” thing to do. He must have been taken by surprise when I reprimanded him for it instead of reacting with mirth.

I wanted to share this experience because it was a good lesson for me as a parent. Every action is open to interpretation and some things are never quite as they seem.

An example my cousin shared with me was when her son crawled up to his sister (who was watching TV and minding her own business) and whacked her on the head. After that, he proceeded to cry. Any parent rushing into the room would have assumed that the older child had hurt the younger child (especially because her son was very young at that time). My cousin said that if she hadn’t seen it all with her own eyes, she would never have believed it. It was a lesson for her never to assume her son was too young to be mischievous.

Growing up is tough. There are so many rules in life to adhere to – some of which can be contradictory. There are also numerous exceptions to the rules. It is no wonder children get confused and are always “getting into trouble”. Returning to the biting incident between Gavin and Gareth above… I often play a game with Gareth where I’ll pretend to bite his fingers. He loves the game and giggles every time I “chomp” on his fingers. Naturally when I “bite” him, I don’t exert much pressure at all. But the fact that I’m biting him and it is deemed okay conveys the message that biting is fine. No wonder they get confused.

Another friend of mine highlighted a similar example of a ball and an orange. When we play with our toddlers, we encourage them to throw the ball. Yet, when they throw the round orange fruit that also looks like a ball, everyone gets upset. I’m sure they must be thinking what a funny world we live in.

Then there is the annoying factor where our children keep doing things again and again despite being told over and over that they shouldn’t. Why do they insist on driving us to the brink by constantly testing our limits? Well, there are a lot of rules to learn when living in this strange, new world. When we play new games, we make mistakes over and over until we can remember the rules by heart. I suppose it is the same for children.

I’m not advocating that we be permissive parents in the face of our children’s misdemeanours. But I think a little more understanding of what it is like to be in their shoes might go a long way in the lesson of discipline.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

8 thoughts on “A Lesson in Discipline: Rules, Regulations and Perspectives

  1. Ha… Reminds me of my boy who recently likes to disturb fussy younger girls by pushing them or nudging their heads. I observe that he leaves the slightly older kids alone and only disturbs the ones who scream and fuss at the slightest things.

    Then he did something that revealed his motivation: after pushing a girl slightly from behind, he quickly went in front of her and looked at her face, waiting to see her reaction. Gosh, to him, it’s like pressing a button on a toy and getting a sound!


    1. MieVee – I think a lot of misbehaviours for young children are part of their experiment to see what happens when they do “XYZ” especially when it is an unprovoked action. Of course there are those where they are clearly reacting to a situation. Then there are those where they are just curious to see what happens. In the latter case it is usually clear that there is usually no malice intended – especially when you get to see the whole thing in action. I saw a boy swipe Gareth in class once. Gareth being Gareth didn’t react at all, but I could see from the boy’s expression that he was just curious. He wasn’t trying to hurt Gareth, he just had this expectant expression on his face.


  2. SL, out of curiousity (and maybe a lesson for myself too) did you talk to or do anything to Gavin after you found out the info from you SIL?


    1. CM – yes, I did. I brought up the topic again and I asked him again why he did it. When he still said he didn’t know, I offered him an explanation and asked if that was the reason why – “You were just playing with Didi, were you? You didn’t mean to hurt him?” Hubby thinks that when I do that I’m offering him a way out but I think that sometimes they really don’t know how to explain their motivation and they need help with it.

      After his confirmation that there was no ill-intent behind the bite, I talked about the biting games we play. I explain how when I bite gareth, it’s pretend. I don’t really bite him, I just pretend to. I said that even though he was just playing with Didi, he bit Didi too hard because the bite mark was still there when Daddy got home. It’s to help him understand why it is okay when I do it and why I got mad at him when he did it.

      Whenever I tell him off by mistake (when it wasn’t really his fault but I thought it was initially), I usually go back to correct it. I never leave it even if he appears to have forgotten the incident. I think that is important because it teaches fairness and that when we make mistakes, we need to correct them. The problem my parents had was that they were part of an era that felt that parents could never be wrong. If they were, they had to cover it up or risk losing their authority. But even though parents are the adults with more experience, we’re still human and flawed. If we refuse to acknowledge our mistakes, what are we teaching our children?

      Anyway, that’s just how I see it.


  3. To adults, many kids’ behaviors are incorrect and labelled as “naughty”, etc. But kids are really just figuring the world out and exploring. I always have to remind myself and hubby not to over-react, especially to a toddler who hardly sees much logic yet.

    And back to correcting, it’s important. When I make a mistake or misunderstands Vee, I apologize to him. Shichida stresses the importance of apology in his books. When a child is hurt and the parent doesn’t realize it or ignores it, this could be a flood gate for more misbehaviors, tantrums, etc.


    1. Totally agree. It is such a change in mindset because we grew up from an era that labelled such behaviours as “naughty”. It is still viewed by many (particularly older generation) as naughty.


  4. Wow that is quite the story. I remember when I was little and still to this day it bothers me about sometimes I got in trouble when It was really my older brother doing to damage. He has always been good at manipulation but, it would have been nice if my parents didn’t take his word a face value.


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