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The Informed Parent

Do I Love My Child Enough To Discipline?

The question of disciplining one’s children is age old. Much has been written about this subject; some of it useful, some of it misleading. When viewing children in the social world, those who are loved by their parents are immediately recognized. They are most pleasant to be around, know their boundaries, and receive positive attention from the people with whom they interact. Their self-esteem is reinforced, and a foundation for future success is established.

Discipline in the under two-year-old is a very perplexing problem for all parents. It is one of the most difficult actions for a mom or dad to take. Yet, a two-year-old who has seen little behavioral control is a two-year-old out of control--a little one shunned by friends, relatives and even peers. The saddest point is that the child was deprived of something his parents owed him but could not bring themselves to give because they “loved him too much to make him cry.” Herein lies the dilemma. Parents confuse love with total submission to the will of the child. This complete surrender of parental rights and responsibilities should never be confused with LOVE.

Why do parents discipline, anyway? When a newborn joins a family the members are confronted with a self-centered and demanding small human. Nature has provided this as a means of self-preservation. As the baby grows older it becomes clear that not all of the offspring’s desires are in his best interest. For example, little Jason does not wish to go to bed. It is important for him to rest and equally important for mom and dad to have some quiet time together. Thus, it is in his best interest that his desire is overridden and he be put to bed against his protest.

Darling Mary, an 18-month-old, wants to run into the street and play. When restrained, violent protests emanate from this once sweet baby girl. Once again, the distasteful side of discipline rears its unsavory head.

By its nature, discipline is never fun to receive or pleasant to dole out. Yet, as parents, we must do these tasks or endanger the very existence of our beloved offspring. Control to prevent harm is usually not a big problem for most parents. It is behavior-molding to prepare the child for social living that is the bug-a-boo. The child must learn at home that she cannot always have her own way-- that the rights of others must be honored.

If we carefully assess whose rights are first challenged by the infant we can understand the plight of parents. The rights of mom and dad are the first to come under attack. To many parents defending their rights with discipline seems strictly a selfish act on their part. They fail to look beyond the immediate. What they are doing now not only benefits them but also prepares their child for a harmonious life in society. There is no question some parents may unnecessarily restrict their offspring for purely selfish motives, but that is the exception rather than the routine.

Parental selfishness usually presents itself as a lack of discipline for the child. Since behavior control does not feel good to the parent it is not practiced, even though long-term repercussions will prove a hindrance to the growing child in a social setting. Thus, the non-disciplining parent has put his own desires ahead of that which is best for the child. If moms and dads would look at the issue in this frame of mind discipline would come easier. It has been my experience that parents do not want to be selfish in matters of offspring behavior control. Unfortunately, parental self-gratification permeates many aspects of family life in non-disciplinary matters.

Therefore, we have established the fact that discipline is needed to help the infant develop properly to fit into the social world. I have found spanking for most children does very little in the long run. It creates anger in the child, guilt in the parent and establishes a violent modus operandi for the offspring later in life. Screaming at the child has similar repercussions.

My clinical and family experience indicates that the “time out” approach is more effective. Putting the child in bed, in his room or seated in a corner (depending on age) for an appropriate amount of time tells the infant that inappropriate behavior does not provoke a violent beating or frightening screaming sessions, but instead quiet separation from the besieged party. This short period of “solitary confinement” tells the child similar behavior is unacceptable in the future.

The time of confinement should vary from a minimum of 10-to-20 minutes, depending on the age of the child. The younger ones need a shorter time. The experts who advise that the isolation period should be one minute per year of age must never have spent any real time with children. A three minute time out for an enraged three-year-old accomplishes nothing. If the outburst was used to gain parental notice the exact opposite has been achieved. Remember, spanking is negative attention, but attention nevertheless, and some children settle for any kind of interaction. The time out sanction for inappropriate behavior is also effective in school-age children, but the time of solitary confinement must be considerably longer than twenty minutes.

I do not think that light spanking is harmful, just ineffective for most children. I would like to see parents start early with the time out concept and thus spare the child the lesson that violence yields control. An atmosphere of constructive discipline leads to a happy family and a well-adjusted child who is accepted by peers and welcomed by seniors.

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