Sunday, 7 October 2012

boot camp or not?

Of all the skills required to be a reasonably adequate parent I find the area of discipline the most challenging. And I'm sure I am not the only parent to feel this.
Disciplining your child lovingly and fairly while also instilling a deep understanding that under no circumstances may she repeatedly spit bath water all over the floor is quite difficult - to put it mildly. I have  tended to want to approach most misdemeanors with a severe tongue lashing in the hope that I don't have to take the reprimand any further and that I never have to go back to the same boring incident again, and again. But I've realised this really doesn't work as children soon become deaf to shouting. 
There is so much advice out there on how best to discipline your child: the most advocated, and a favourite of Super Nanny's, being "time out" and the least being smacking. But lets face it, trying to persuade a 3 or 4 year-old to sit quietly on a chair in the corner without screaming or running away is a lot more exhausting - and also open for further bad behaviour - than a firm smack on the bum. I am not saying that hitting small children should be the common form of punishment but I do feel that it can be rather effective if used sparingly and consciously. For Pete's sake most of us were smacked and locked in our bedrooms as children and I don't hold it against my parents or feel I have suffered any major trauma from it.
What I do feel has lead me to the therapist's door though is not being heard and understood. So I strongly feel that listening to your child's gripe or defense is a fair approach to deciding on the type of discipline she should get.
Having two children of the same age but with polar opposite personalities I have found that the same type of discipline does not work on both of them. Charlotte, who is constantly trying to perfect her world, cannot  bear the thought of being caught out at behaving badly and therefore sitting in the corner and having to actually think about her awful behaviour is almost too much to bear....which some would argue makes it a good form of punishment for her, but unfortunately for me too! What should take up to four minutes ends up taking an hour, with her screaming and me eventually losing all my calm unaffected "I can do this" demeanour of a parent in control. Invariably I end up in a rage that leaves me having to abort mission and walk away. Hence the entire objective to instill discipline is lost: the child gets away with screaming and I feel like a first class loser parent. So I choose alternative solutions with Charlotte, like talking about why it's not okay to do what she did, which really seems to work with her, and if it's particularly bad I will remove a privilege like T.V. 
Anna, however, is a different kettle of fish and with her, bless her mischievous little heart, I am constantly pulling out new tricks to stay on top of the discipline game. She is one of those children that if born to a timid softly spoken mother, which I am not, would run the entire household and perhaps the farm and surrounding community too. "Time out" seems to have no real effect on her as I have a strong sense that very little self-reflection is done in that corner, but instead it is used more as a time for her to cook up and perfect her defense speech. So for her I vary things quite a lot! I admit she has received a fair amount of spankings in her short life and thanks to her I have had extreme practice at controlling my patience. Ofcourse her forgivable grin and hilarious outlook on "the way life is" always helps us to bounce back quickly from any unpleasant outbursts.
No matter which way you look at it discipline is a full time occupation and there is a fine line between punishing one's child effectively and causing more parental anxiety. I can see now why there are some parents who choose to turn a blind eye to a lot of bad behaviour as sometimes it just doesn't seem like its worth the exhausting battle. I, however, take it all far too seriously to ignore the possibility of my children growing up into unpleasant adults and possibly often end up punishing myself more.
The bottom line is that kids need discipline but I think cutting them some slack here and there could stand their self esteem's in good stead. After all they are just kids and when else in their lives will they be able to so vehemently push the boundaries within the security of those who love them.
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  1. Discipline is a subject to most mothers that I would compare to political and religious debates from men around a camp fire. As you said all children are different and if we don't approach their discipline with love, compassion and intuition we will lose the battle. However the best "discipline" is shared family values. My husband and I do not smack our children because one day when your child smacks their siblings or smacks a child in the playground, you cannot get angry at what they have done. You, yourself have smacked them when angry, they are just doing what you have shown them to do in a situation they cannot control. Discipline is control at the end of the day and we discipline when we have lost control or they have moved across the boundaries of our perceived values and morals. My theory is praise the little things, stand strong to your committment of good family boundaries,values and morals, forget the rigid control of silly things and let them be kids. Ultimately choosing to let your children think that they have been free all their lives while living by your value system rather than rules. It has really worked for us to date, yet we still have a long journey ahead of us as my oldest son goes to high school and becomes a teenager, my daughter finishes primary school and my youngest son begins Grade 1.

    1. Hi Ecoweddinggirl
      Thank you for your insightful and informative comment. I totally agree with you that kids need to be kids while still living within the boundaries of a family's values and morals.

  2. Wonderful honesty, and good to air such issues. Parenting, as many say, is the hardest job in the world, and none of us can get it right - children make sure of that: if not when they're children, then they show us how we got it wrong after they grow up.

    I agree with ecoweddinggirl: any kind of physical punishment is an unhelpful example and message to the child, and it's humiliating too. (In the UK it's illegal.) Parents can't win, that's for sure; but humiliating children, or dominating by fear, cannot be good for the child. There are always alternatives . . .

    1. Hi Jonathan
      Thanks for your comment. I have agree that if physical punishment is misused it can be humiliating and give the wrong message to the child. But I also believe that each child and parent is unique and if a controlled smack is used as a final and clear message of where that boundaries lie then it can serve as effective rather than destructive. I believe it is a form of punishment used in extreme cases particularly when the child is continuously putting himself in danger. For example: my child kept walking up the driveway and hanging around the entrance to our farm where the main road is. The first time I found her I spoke sternly and clearly why this is unacceptable. The second time I spoke even more firmly and the third time she got a hiding. She never walked up that road again. Some things are non-negotiable.