So, this is what it’s like disciplining a five year-old tackles motherhood sans the rose-tinted glasses. Our columnists L. JulianoMarla DarwinRossana UnsonRonna Capili-Bonifacio, and Chrina Cuna-Henson tell their personal experiences like it is—at times frustrating, oftentimes confusing, but always enlightening.

There are just those days when I feel I’m at my wit’s end. Having to work as a consultant with erratic hours, working mostly from home, and committing to raising my child without a yaya after a series of disastrous events (for another story), not to mention a busy husband we only get to see a few days a week at best, I’m entitled to my meltdowns once in a while. I allow myself that, as I’m simply human, but it’s when mom-guilt hits that really stings my ego. The minute little bub turned five, I’ve been dealing with a selectively hearing defiant smart aleck and it’s getting on my nerves when I perfectly know it shouldn’t. Am I not good enough to do all these? A much-needed review of my situation was in order.

The first thing I had to assess is how I can make my working days, well, workable, without having to constantly butt heads with my daughter. As I’ve taken more projects, because I’m not one to pass on opportunities, I can see how little bub has matured into her own person capable of entertaining and taking care of herself. But there are days when she’s needy and plain difficult. I should be taking my own advice, as I’ve written about how to balance momhood with working from home or being more proactive than reactive in disciplining, and I can obviously see how she’s gotten used to my usual route of raising my voice and giving empty warnings. My methods aren’t quite working as well as they used to.

I’ve consulted the, supposedly, epitomes of perfect motherhood in my life to give their two cents about the matter, my mom and my mother-in-law, in which they easily suggested that I just go ahead and spank her. “Bigyan mo lang ng isang malakas, isang beses lang, at titino yan.” A couple of friends mirrored the same sentiment. I won’t lie that I’ve processed the idea.

But a couple of hours down the internet rabbit hole and a eureka moment hit me like a splash of cold water, and it’s all about properly using rewards and punishment. The first word that popped in my brain was “bribing,” which appears to be a quick bandaid solution rather than a helpful and constructive long term solution. However, it’s all in the consistency, rules, and situation as to the whens, hows, and whys in giving rewards and punishment.

Punishment is an easier concept to grasp. You do something wrong, you get a consequence. But reward, for me, feels a little tricky. What behaviors do I reward? What expectations will it create in my child? Will she grow up entitled, thinking that all positive, even if mediocre, efforts should be rewarded? And yet, the two should obviously go hand-in-hand. How will she understand the joys of rewards and aiming for them if she doesn’t know the severities a punishment can bring?

According to an article by the Jersey Journal, rewards happen to regulate children’s behavior better than punishment, saying, “Equating discipline with punishment limits a parent’s ability to effectively manage a child’s behavior because children will sooner change a behavior to obtain a reward than avoid a punishment.” And the rewards do not have to be grand. A simple smile, hug, or positive encouragement can go a long way if done consistently with the right behaviors. Unlike bribes, where the focus is eliciting a favorable outcome on your end, rewards react to the positive, thus maintaining and increasing them.

Also from the same article, the author says, “Punishments don’t work if parents ignore positive behavior. A helpful ratio is 75 percent rewards and 25 percent punishments.” And this is what I can see happening with my child. Because there’s fear of punishment, she takes on tactics to face them head on or avoid them with deflection. There’s no enforcement that encourages doing what is right than just avoiding the wrong.

So in the past month, we made and decorated a “chores book” for her where we log in actions and behaviors that will elicit a reward. I’ve taken it a step further and use this as a way to teach money management. We now log in one star for every chore/action/positive behavior she does, and at a certain number of stars, she can trade them off with rewards, like treats, toys, and activities. It’s been doing us a lot of good in a couple of weeks, and she’s been very proud of how she can manage her own “money” and use them for things she wants and needs. I also make it a point to reward her intangibly with lots of smiles, hugs, and kisses when needed. So far, we haven’t had to go through a time out or a reprimand from several warnings.

Are you also at your wit’s end? Corporal punishment isn’t always the answer, although I do acknowledge that it may work for some. See your options and what works best for your child. Every stage is different, I’m learning this as I go, and taking them a phase at a time is a great way to keep sane.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.

Art by Tricia Guevara

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