If you are a parent who is trying to orient your compass to more gentle points than hitting your child or yelling at him or her, this is the post for you! We are going to take the time to talk about why hitting a child or yelling at him or her does not solve the problem of unwanted behavior.
Children are immature and not fully developed, and yet we expect them to control their impulses. It takes lots of time (years, decades!) to learn self-restraint, and many of us would admit we are still working on impulse control ourselves in different areas. However, hitting and yelling for conflict resolution is not a skill you can bring to work with you or use with your spouse, and many parents would like to work toward having different tools to use as they guide their children.
There are excellent reasons for wanting to leave spanking, hitting and yelling behind. Eda LeShan, in her wonderful article. “Please Don’t Hit Your Kids”, published in Mothering Magazine (www.mothering.com) in Spring 1996, outlines seven points regarding why hitting or spanking a child is not the way to attempt to manage behavior. Her thoughts include these:
- We should not hit a child because it leads to the belief of a child that hitting is a decent, ethical and moral thing to do and it is not.
- Any time we hit or spank a child they believe they are bad and unlovable.
- When children are spanked, they feel their behavior is something they could have controlled, which is not always the case. She writes, “It is the nature of childhood to be immature and unable to control one’s impulses. That’s what adults are for: to help children deal with impulses they will eventually learn to control themselves.”
- Being hit is demeaning.
- Nobody learns anything of value by being hit. “All spankings and beatings do is prove that as soon as one is big enough and strong enough there can be retribution by hurting others. Hitting produces fear, anger, feelings of rejection, and perhaps most of all, confusion.”
- The way children learn civility is to have it modeled for them by the adults in their world.
- There are many other ways to handle the misbehavior of a child.
MORE REGARDING SPANKING:
THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, page 259, says the following regarding spanking, “Spanking does not help a child learn self-discipline…….Of course, there are other things parents do that can be harmful to a child. Physical punishment is only one aspect. Parents can undermine a child’s self-esteem in other ways, too. Nancy Samalin, author of Loving Your Child Is Not Enough, explains: “Children take criticism from a parent very personally. They feel attacked by someone whose admiration they crave…Children need appreciation and praise, not indifference and punishment.”
A Word About Yelling:
“Yelling frightens children. Being yelled at is an attack that triggers the fight or flight response. Some children defend by fighting- yelling back at us. Some children defend by fleeing – trying to escape either physically or emotionally….Intentionally yelling at children to get them to do what we want is bullying. It teaches children to yell at people to get them to do what you want. Unintentionally yelling at children is the loss of control. It teaches children that yelling at people is an acceptable way of dealing with frustration.” (Connection Parenting, pages 104-105).
Some parents are truly baffled at this point. I have actually had parents say to me, “Well, if I can’t hit my child and I can’t yell at my child, what do I do? How do you punish your children if you don’t hit and you don’t yell?”
Again, there is that word: punishment. Marshall Rosenberg, author and founder of NonViolent Communication says this regarding parenting,
“Somehow I had gotten it into my head that, as a parent, my job was to make demands. I learned, however, that I could make all the demands in the world but still couldn’t make the children do anything.”
Guiding your child does not mean your child gets to do whatever he or she wants. However, how you view the process of teaching your child the skills needed to grow into a mature adult makes all the difference.
Alfie Kohn, in his book Unconditional Parenting, discusses a view of conditional parenting. This is a view in which the child is looked at in terms of his behavior, the overall view of human nature seen by the parent is negative, the view of parental love is that it needs to be earned and that the strategy involves “doing something to” a child. This is in direct contrast to unconditional parenting, which focuses on the whole child including thoughts, reasons, feelings, the view of human nature by the parent that human nature is good, the view of the parent regarding parental love is that it is an unconditional gift and that the strategy used involves working with the child..
He goes on to point out a study done on more than a hundred mothers of grown children: “Those mothers who, as children, sensed that they were loved only when they lived up to their parents’ expectations now felt less worthy as adults. Remarkably, though, they tended to use the identical approach once they became parents. The mothers used conditional affection “with their own children in spite of the strategy (ies) having had negative effects on them.” He comments that parenting styles can be passed on to one’s children. My personal thought is that how you teach and guide your children is planting the seed for the next generations. Therefore, it is important to stop and think about what discipline is for you.
DISCIPLINE MEANS TO GUIDE. Discipline does not equate to punishment. As parents, we are to guide our children…They are in some ways, like a foreigner showing up in a brand new country or culture without understanding the language, the rules, what is accepted and what not is accepted. It is our job to guide them, and show them lovingly what it acceptable.
However, using gentle methods to guide behaviors does not mean we let behaviors slide; it does mean that we keep working on what we are modeling for our children, that we understand the developmental stages and that we have the tools to deal with common developmental challenges. It means that we understand our own temperament and that of our child. It means that we teach our children and that we guide our children’s behavior. It means moving past fear-based tactics and being a truly Authentic Leader within your own home.
I implore you to keep going back to the framework of being an Authentic Leader for your child. If this framework is new to you, expect that you will have to keep repeatedly aligning your compass to this new point . Parenting can be wonderful, but also challenging and frustrating. It is wonderful to read about being a gentle parent in books and quite another thing to pull it out of your tool box when everyone in your house is crying, screaming or yelling over something, the dog is barking, the phone is ringing, the toilet is overflowing and you are at your wit’s end. I have seen parents who have walked into the backyard or the bathroom and pulled the door shut for a few moments just so they could calm down enough to not spank or hit their child. I applaud them. It can take a long time to change your own behavior. You are worth it to learn how to change and acquire new tools for your parenting.
Parenting requires a great deal of inner work, and some of the qualities that parenting best develops within ourselves seems to take a long time to mature. But, as Becky Bailey writes in her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, “Once you model self-control for your children, they will show better self-control than you have ever imagined they could achieve.”
Keep your compass on that guiding star of alternatives to punishment, and keep reminding yourself that gentle discipline is worth it as you strive to keep not only a peaceful home, a home where you set the tone, but to teach your children skills they can use for their whole life.
Our next post in this series will take a look at how some parents have fallen into the hole of permissive parenting and reasoning with small children and then we will finally look at creating a roadmap for gentle discipline within your own home.
Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.