One of the most common points in the discipline debate is claiming that if you don't spank, you're parenting permissively or letting children run all over you. The debater implies that if you refuse to spank, all hell will break loose.
And although the classic rebuttal to this claim is true- that parents can discipline, guide and teach WITHOUT hitting- I think something else needs to be addressed here, too.
When parents broaden their perspective about parenting methods and parenting goals, (and their children in general), some things become more important while other things become less important. It can be hard to see, but shifting your viewpoint makes all the difference.
Suddenly, the desire to force your child to execute a command becomes diminished, if not extinct altogether. Behavioral goals become a long-term process instead of demanding immediate, blind, almost dog-level obedience. For example, a parent in a punitive mindset will expect the child to say, "Please," after one or two prompts. A parent who gets out of the adversarial mindset is more concerned about modeling polite behavior and would rather remind the child, even if it takes 500 times to become an internalized and honest word as opposed to one uttered under threat of pain.
This is especially true when parents research age-appropriate behavior. Studying the brain provides a lot of insight. Just as children generally crawl around 6 months and take their first steps around 1 year, we can map out general milestones for behavioral developments, too. And understanding that our child's behavior is related to brain development gets us out of the adversarial mindset.
Instead of wanting to smack your 3 year old for making up a very obvious and big lie about who pulled the cat's tail, you can celebrate this complex developmental milestone. Your child is healthy. Your child is growing and developing normally. Why begrudge it? Now you can begin guiding your child through that skill, the same way you smiled and clapped and held out your hands as your 1 year old took his first steps towards you.
For example, I do not expect my 21 month old son to sit quietly for an hour in the restaurant. And so, I do not demand one hour of quiet behavior from him, although we do spend time practicing and encouraging patience. Finally, that means I do not have any desire to punish him when he does not sit quietly for an hour.
Choosing not to punish a child isn't a lack of parenting, or neglect or being permissive. It doesn't mean children are in control and it doesn't point to any failure. Failing in something is defining an expectation and then not meeting it. Any expectation I have is set at a developmentally appropriate level. My children meet those levels at their own pace, and I gently guide them to continue growing and developing in their unique ways.
Setting an expectation outside of normal developmental milestones and then punishing the child when he fails to meet that expectation is an adversarial worldview. It leads to frustration, anger and bitterness for both the parent and the child. Think about this. Would you ever prop up your 6 month old baby and tell him to walk? Then when he fell down, would you count to 3 and then spank him? (Without any anger, of course.)
Or what if your child was actually a year old. Would you hold up your 1 year old and tell her to walk? Then when she falls down, would you tell her to get up or she gets a pop on the butt?
When you use this analogy, you see how an adversarial method is frustrating to the parent and child. Whether the spanking is painful or not isn't even the highlight here. The point is that the child is set up to fail and the parent is then burdened with meting out the punishment. Growth, acceptance, encouragement, patience, communication and resolution are all missing here. It is a short term view, a downward spiral that takes the focus off growing and living and places it on fear of failure, fear of pain and fear of rejection.
Going back to the analogy, think about the child's role and the parent's role in an unconditional worldview. The parent knows that the child will begin to walk sometime around 1 year. (But, of course, all children are different). So when she sees her baby standing up, she smiles, holds out her arms and says, "You can do it! Try! Take a step!" Feeling accepted and encouraged, the baby will smile and bravely take a step. If he falls, the parent is quick to say, "Try again! I believe in you! C'mon, you can do this!"
Moving the goalposts in parenting from adversity to acceptance is the difference between short circuiting our children versus cheering them on while they reach for the moon. It's the difference between taking on the huge burden of meting out punishment every small step of the way versus deeply enjoying and appreciating parenthood as our children grow from little people to big people.
It might be hard to see, but it's worth taking that first baby step into a new world.
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