Are you disciplining right?

When it comes to disciplining preschoolers, ignoring tantrums or being too permissive can backfire. Here are common discipline mistakes to avoid.

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" As parents, we only want the best for our kids. But in our quest to give them that, we sometimes don’t realise that the wellmeaning things we say or do can do more harm than good."

When Jolin Chua became a mum, her top priority was to ensure she raised a happy and healthy child.

Her son, Keiran, now four, was her precious gift after many years of infertility, so all she wanted to do was put a smile on his face.

“I was obsessed with keeping him happy all the time. I equated crying and fussing to something negative and wanted to correct it immediately by giving in to his requests,” the 40-year-old sales manager recalls.

“It was successful in the beginning, but once he started growing up and becoming more vocal, I realised giving in constantly does come with consequences.”

Not only did little Keiran expect to get his way all the time at home or with his parents, he also expected the same treatment at the childcare centre and during playdates.

When things didn’t work out the way he wanted them to, Keiran would throw major tantrums. It was also at this time that Jolin noticed that he was struggling to settle into school and didn’t have a lot of friends.

“By putting my son’s happiness at the top of my priority list, I forgot to teach him how to follow rules or be kind,” Jolin adds.

“I realised I wasn’t setting him up for success, because in the real world, you can’t expect everyone to make you happy all the time.”

As parents, we only want the best for our kids. But in our quest to give them that, we sometimes don’t realise that the well-meaning things we say or do can do more harm than good.

Young Parents speaks to parenting and academic experts on what mums and dads are doing that unwittingly fuel bad behaviour in their preschoolers.

You ignore their tantrums

We’ve all been there. Our kid starts a major tantrum in the middle of a family gathering or supermarket trip.

We look the other way, hoping that by not giving them any attention, the drama will die down eventually. When it does work, we think we’ve finally cracked the parenting code.

But have we, though?

“Some respectful parents claim that this way, the children will learn how to feel the full emotion,” says parenting expert Cornelia Dahinten.

“But it might be a mistake because the kids do not yet have the brain function to calm down by themselves. They need loving support.”


Tantrums are a cry for help. Your child is trying to say something, but isn’t able to fully verbalise it. In such cases, effective communication is key.

Jerine Ang, principal at Pat’s Schoolhouse Sembawang Country Club, shares a great tip: “Help your child express himself by making ‘I’ statements such as, ‘I feel upset’.  Then encourage him to put his feelings into words by asking him questions.

“For example, if he’s yelling at his younger brother, ask him: ‘You sound really mad to me. Can you tell me what’s going on just now while you two were playing together?’.

What you’re doing here is acknowledging your child’s feelings, connecting, empathising and offering a solution. Talking it out teaches your child a positive way to regulate his behaviour and express his emotions.

“It also sends the message that while it’s natural to feel angry or frustrated, that doesn’t make it okay to display bad manners of screaming and shouting, especially in public,” Jerine adds.

Sometimes if there’s no solution, just being there for your child and offering a loving space to let out the emotion can also do wonders.
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You’re too permissive

Having grown up in an authoritarian environment, some parents today have decided that they don’t want to raise their kids in the same manner. But at the same time, they lack the inner compass to find an alternative parenting method.

“This often results in permissive parenting or erratic reactions,” Cornelia says. “Both are not very helpful, and can confuse the child and parent.”

Being more of a friend to your kid in the hope of maintaining a close bond with them can also backfire, because your child doesn’t have a good model to learn from.


As a parent, you need to accept that you will not be liked all the time by your kids. Also expecting children to be constantly happy is a parent trap that leads to permissive parenting.

So, instead of always trying to fix things for your kids or letting them get their way, what’s more important is to teach them how to overcome negative emotions so they learn how to be happy.

You start discipline too late

You let your preschooler’s bad behaviour slide because you think he’s still young and doesn’t have the maturity to grasp such concepts.

However, Cornelia points out that humans are pattern seekers. To learn a new pattern of behaviour, we need to come into constant interaction with it.

“If we do not start early, we are confusing this pattern. It is not the value system that changes with age, it’s how well we’re able to adapt and execute throughout our development,” Cornelia adds.


Start early – as young as 18 months old, Jerine says.

At this age, tots can already understand that other people have feelings just like them and this is in fact the best time to start teaching them that their own behaviour can affect others.

“Acquiring good values and manners take lots of practice and reinforcement, so it is important to start as early as possible so that the values can become something a child does automatically whether at home or in school,” Jerine points out.

You don’t set boundaries or stick to consequences

Some parents feel that boundaries will stifle their growing child and force them to do things they might otherwise not be ready to do yet.

However, when you don’t set any boundaries, they won’t know right from wrong and can go through life will very little self-awareness.


“There should always be boundaries set so the children will know they cannot cross them,” notes, Iris Lim, principal of Chiltern House Preschool.

“It is normal for children to test the boundaries, so parents need to let them know what they are and the consequences of crossing them.” When the boundaries are crossed, make sure you carry out the consequences as told to your child.

“The mistake a lot of parents make is to set a consequence that cannot be carried out,” Iris says.

For example, if you tell your kid that if he hits his brother again, he’ll have to stay home when everyone else goes out for dinner. Make sure you have someone who can stay home with him.

If you don’t, then it’s a given that your child will tag along for dinner and the consequence wasn’t carried out as told.

By serving empty threats, your child will soon learn that he can get away with bad behaviour.

Choose an effective consequence, such as your child’s favourite activity, Iris suggests. So, if your kid misbehaves, he will have to forgo TV time or read one less book during bedtime.

Setting consequences also ensure you address the issues with your child by talking to him about the impact of his behaviour on others.
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"Setting consequences also ensure you address the issues with your child by talking to him about the impact of his behaviour on others."

You constantly shower them with praise

Children thrive on praise and it’s important to give them that affirmation when they do something commendable. It’s a great way to cultivate a positive image in your kid, Cornelia says.

However, by doing it too often and giving out empty praises, you will end up raising a praise junkie.


Make it meaningful. “Praise the strategy to success, not only the success. Praise work ethics, rather than just results. Praise things that have been an effort, not every little silly thing,” Cornelia says.

Jerine adds: “Praise should not be vague like, ‘You have done well’. Show appreciation by speaking the language of values or virtue, for example: ‘I really like the way you helped your friend Jason to get onto his feet when he fell at the playground. That was very helpful of you!’ ”

You don’t set a good example

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the “do as I say and not as I do,” theory does not work in parenting.

Children watch and imitate people around them, especially their parents. Your actions influence their behaviour more than you think, so act accordingly.

As Jerine puts it: “Values are best caught than taught.”


Model the behaviour you want to see in your children and always keep the communication lines open.

Iris says it is important to talk to your kids about how they should treat others, explain the reasons and encourage them to reflect on their actions or reaction to a situation.

“This can help children to critically reflect on their words and actions and, at the same time, instil good values in them,” she adds.