Raising children is a difficult task to do well. And, believe it or not, it doesn’t all come naturally. While most of us are pre-dispositioned to feel great love for our children, even before they are born, we are not always ready for the responsibility we are taking on to society. What I mean by this is that it is our responsibility as parents to raise children who will become productive citizens of this world. That role doesn’t always occur to us before having children.
Usually sometime around the age of two, when we learn about the so-called “terrible twos” is when it might occur to us that we have to discipline our children. Well meaning friends and relatives (and sometimes strangers) try to give us advice about how to best do this. Even professionals such as Dr. James Dobson often recommend corporal punishment. Especially for strong willed children. Unfortunately, many studies show that this type of punishment when compared to appropriate discipline does more harm than good.
You may not realize but there is real evidence of the harm that physical punishment can cause to children, and not just on their body, but in their mind. Now, make no mistake, it is true that physical punishment can elicit the immediate response of better behavior. However, it is never a long term correction of the behavior. Instead, children will simply try not to get caught and will try to avoid the spanking. They become afraid of the punishment, and do not actually realize that they have control over their own behavior and actions. By removing a child’s physical control over their body, you’re also, inadvertently removing the lesson you really want your child to learn: Self Control.
What a parent really wants to do is teach a child how to control their own behavior without threats of corporal punishment. This way, the child learns to behave even when the parent isn’t monitoring them. This is especially important to teach children before their middle school years, and teenage years. So, how do you teach children self-control without corporal punishment? Believe it or not, providing an abundance of positive reinforcement for behaviors that you desire, and either no attention to, or minor — very bland — attention to undesirable behaviors works better than physical punishment.
To avoid issues, especially with young children between the ages of two through four, the age where tantrums can be common is to talk to the child before events that might illicit the undesirable behavior. Talk to the child about the trip to the grocery story for instance: “Johnny, we are going into the grocery store to get some milk. We are not going to get toys or candy today. However, if you are a good boy, after dinner tonight I’ll read you a book.” That reminder of what is going to happen and what you expect can help tremendously. Children want to please you. During the trip ensure that you verbally praise your child for behaving, and make a big deal of it later after dinner when you read the story. “Johnny was so good at the store today, we’re going to go read a story together!”
Discipline, rather than punishment involves talking to the child on their level. Constant explanations of proper behavior, kind reminders, a happy smile (and lots of hugs and kisses) when the child complies and a firm “You weren’t good in the store today, so I’m sorry but I cannot read you a story.” will suffice. It’s not fast, and it’s not easy. It might take a few trips to the grocery store for it to sink in. You must do exactly what you say you will for it to work! But, removing the option of corporal punishment as discipline will go a long way in helping you have a closer relationship with your children based on respect rather than fear. Starting young will ensure that by the time a child is a teenager, he or she completely trusts his or her parent to be a loving place to fall in times of trouble, and their first preference for support.