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Still Spanking?

Dr. Phil pointed out quite clearly to these parents that the spanking wasn’t helping the child to control his behavior, and was also creating distrust in the parent/child relationship. Dr. Phil made his views quite clear, that he felt there were more appropriate ways of disciplining young children, rather than hitting them. I was inspired after this show to go online to the discussion board afterwards, and read what people had to say about it, and put in my own two cents.

One belief that I have held since my college days studying Early Childhood Education, was that most of us will parent the same way we were parented. Whether our parents gave us opportunities and choices, and guided our behavior with love and patience, or whether we had parents who walloped first and asked questions later, would be a good predictor of how new parents behaved with their children. Most arguments in parenting partnerships occur when each parent comes from the opposite background — either from permissive parents or disciplinarians. Boy, no wonder these parents and kids get confused! There are easy answers, and better ways to guide behavior other than spanking. These require some research on the part of parents, and a willingness to change their own behavior.

An issue that Dr. Phil didn’t touch on was the aspect of child development. There were parents on the show who counted to three before they smacked their child, giving them virtually no opportunity to change their behavior before the smack came. Even in a child of three years old, they require a longer period of time to hear the request the parent had made, have their brain process the information, come up with a suitable reaction, and then respond to the reaction. If our expectation of a three-year-old is to process all of this on the count of ‘one, two, three’, we are asking far more than they are capable of. A parent should make the request, let the child process it and start to respond, and then count. To FIVE. Give them a little more time, and the results will be more positive. The consequences for not complying should be clear to the child, and have the punishment fit the crime, so to speak.

Always be prepared to follow through on your consequences. Consistency is of utmost importance, so don’t make a promise that you don’t intend to keep. As Dr. Phil said on the show, you have to find out what the child’s ‘currency’ is. What is important to them? Removing a toy or a privilege can be very effective, but only when it is important to the child, and they know why it is being taken away. Making rash decisions or threats aren’t fair to the child. The child can often be a part of the discipline. Ask them what they think is fair. You’ll be surprised that often the child is harder on themselves than the parent would be!

The parents on the show who were videotaped made it clear that they expected their child to comply with their expectations, and comply NOW. This can definitely be difficult for the child that has his own agenda and ideas, and parents need to assess whether compliance is always necessary, or if allowing the child to have some control over his decisions may be a healthier choice for the child. We want our children to grow to be responsible, and age-appropriate decision making can start earlier than most parents think. When it comes to safety issues, indeed compliance is important. But whether it is to wear running shoes or rubber boots, or to play in an empty laundry basket (as in the video on the show, the child got whacked for it), parents need to determine what level of importance it carries. When children are allowed to make their own decisions, they learn to understand the consequences that come with them, and this becomes more important as they head toward adolescence.

With young children, a really great idea is to speak in positives rather than negatives. The easiest way to remember this is to tell your child what TO do, rather than what NOT to do. If you want them to stop jumping on the couch, and you say, “sit on the couch, please”, it will be far more effective than, “stop that right now” or, “don’t jump”. Tell them to keep the stones on the ground rather than, “don’t throw stones”, or, “walk in the house” rather than, “don’t run”. It takes practice to learn this new language, but the value to your children is endless. We say no to children far more often than we say yes. Assess that in your own home, and give the children lots of things that you can say yes about.

There are parents out there who will say they don’t spank their children, but then you hear them holler as though they are in a hog calling contest! Yelling at children is like an assault on their psyche, and on their ears. How do we feel as adults if we get yelled at? Does this make us want to do what we are being asked? If a boss yells at an employee, is that okay? Or do we feel that person is out of control?

The best trick I can share with parents who yell, is when you really want to get their attention; WHISPER. Children who are used to their parents hollering at them will probably not respond right away when they stop, but if parent’s persevere, they’ll find their stress levels have gone down immensely, and that children are far more willing to comply when requested to do so, rather than when they are yelled at.

There are many, many resources, books, websites and parenting classes out there to access. Parents who truly want well behaved children are those who will take advantage of them, and further their own knowledge of children and their development. The payoff is a peaceful home, with respectful, happy children. There is hope for today’s children, because when parents know better, they do better.

Laura is the owner of Childsplace Learning Centre Ltd., and the Past President of the Calgary Preschool Teachers Association. She can be reached at 241-6232.

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