Raise Up a Child
Friday, October 09, 2009

By: Jackie Pearson, LMFT

I like to think of parenting both in philosophical terms as well as practical “what to dos,” so my goal is to combine the two.

First, I would like you to think of what long-range goals you have for your children, rather than just what works for the moment. Also, think about separating your children from their behavior and make sure you give those expressions of love to the child while not condoning misbehavior. So often when we discipline children, we shame and guilt them rather than setting boundaries on their behavior. Our words cause confrontation rather than encourage cooperation. It is good to ask ourselves if what we are about to say to our child we would say to someone else’s child. Also, to ask ourselves, “If I talk to my friends the way I talk to my children, how many would I have left?”

What is discipline? The root word is “to disciple,” which means “to teach” or “to train.” Teaching and training in a respectful manner maintains the relationship with the child while setting limits and guarding precious self-esteem. We are to be role models for our children, showing them how to treat people with respect. We can’t expect them to be better than we are. We must model respect and then insist upon it. Notice that I didn’t say demand it. I don’t buy into the old adage that some of us were raised with that said, “Don’t do what I do, do what I say.” Neither do I believe that children should be allowed to run wild and rule the family. Where is the balance? It is in adults who act like adults and model respect, set clear limits, and give lots of love.

Parents frequently equate discipline with corporal punishment and automatically think they have to start spanking children when they are very young in order to “make them mind.” Also, parents will say that their parents spanked them and they turned out okay, so what’s wrong with it? Just because something works doesn’t mean it is desired.

I firmly believe that it is not only unnecessary to spank children, but that it is detrimental in several ways. First, parenting is not a role we play, it is a relationship process and hitting teaches children to fear the parent and breaks the strong attachment of love and bonding between them. Discipline is easier when the relationship is one bound by love.

Hitting and spanking is shaming and often results in children feeling bad about themselves, particularly if they are sensitive. They may become passive if they don’t rebel. Some children will become rebellious and revengeful toward their parents out of their anger over the punishment and will do things to get even with them. A revenge cycle between parent and child is devastating to both.

We want our children to develop self-discipline and self-control. Hitting is expedient and may stop the undesired behavior at the moment, but is an external form of control and does not help children develop self-regulation within. When hit the child often feels angry and resentful toward the parent, thus the energy is projected outward in the anger toward the parent instead of learning taking place from what has happened.

Spanking does little more than to vent the anger of the parent. Usually the parent has lost control. Also, it models hitting when you are angry as the thing to do. Being hit tells children that it’s okay to hit people smaller than they are. The child may then think that it is okay for them to hit younger brothers and sisters and playmates. Studies show that the children who are hit the most are the most likely to purposely harm other people and things.

What about sparing the rod and spoiling the child? Actually, the shepherd’s rod referred to was used almost exclusively for guiding the sheep, not beating them. The shepherds would gently steer the sheep, especially the lambs, by simply holding the rod to block them from going in the wrong direction and then gently nudge them toward the right direction. It is also my understanding that the shepherd was careful not to hit the sheep for that could damage the wool or cause injury to the valuable animal. Aren’t our children too valuable to hit?

So what do we do when our children misbehave? We think in terms of limits and consequences. There are a number of things we can do in addition to the practical suggestions I described in my last article. I would like to begin with babies and toddlers. First, there is no reason to discipline an infant. The latest research shows that early spankings make for aggressive toddlers. This is a difficult age, as children are pre-verbal. I highly recommend the set of books by Louise Bates Ames, and Frances L. Ilg, which has a book for each year of life up through age nine, when ages ten through thirteen are included together. The first one is Your One-Year-Old, Fun-Loving and Fussy, then Your Two-Year-Old, Terrible and Tender, etc. Each book discusses age-appropriate behavior and how to deal with undesirable behavior in a constructive way. More next time.

Author : Jackie Pearson LMFT