Often times people of the Christian faith fall back on the concept of "spare the rod.. spoil the child." It always bothered me many adults used this as a mandate to spank or beat their child. When my children were small, I heard Dr. Kay Kuzma on a radio show. She shared the direct translation of this verse (Proverbs13:24 "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him."). According to her and other scholars findings the "rod" which is spoken of is the word used for the staff or rod a shepherd uses for their sheep. They do not beat their sheep with a rod or staff but direct, steer, or guide to safety with it. This was a light bulb moment in my parenting! Spanking never set well with me, and though I used it as a tool on occasion, and desired to be a good parent so my children would grow in safety and love to adulthood, well adjusted, kind, and respectful of others, I knew there had to be a better way. Little did I know this one show would change the course of my parenting and spur me to many hours of study on alternatives.
The concept of discipline is a tight rope walk of balance. The word discipline conjures up many positive and negative notions in individuals usually based on their history and beliefs. It has almost become a "dirty word" in parenting circles. For the sake of this discussion, I want to define what I mean. To discipline... to disciple.. to teach. It is that simple. I believe my faith mandates I teach my children... lovingly direct them, save them from danger, and raise them. Though many readers may not be of the same faith as I , I hope you will find some positive points which help you in your parenting journey! I have always said I "practice parenting" like a Dr. practices medicine. There are things I am super good at, such as nurturing, and others I am still perfecting. There are ways I parented when my children were small which make me cringe and there are things I am proud of.
I will share, each of my children have experienced spankings as a method of discipline on occasion and I will definitively state I do not feel it is the best or most productive tool in the parenting tool box. As a matter of fact, it felt wrong to me every time and later I always set them down and told them I was sorry and asked them to forgive me. I explained that I was human, and while what they did was wrong, I could have handled the situation in a way that still taught them without hitting. We then came up with ways, when they were older, the situation could have been handled differently on both sides. In my home and in my life spanking was the lazy way out because I was tired, overwhelmed or fed up. I do not, however, believe spanking (swat on the behind) is abuse. I just believe it to be a very poor tool.
There is a BIG shift in parenting circles which have taken it a step further from "no spanking" to "no punitive measures ever." "They" wish to raise their children in a fully accepting and loving environment. "They" believe that anything punitive teaches the child to distrust. I honestly believe this is a misjudgment. The world, school, and nature itself has punitive measures in place. While it should not be used for EVERY infraction, it is necessary as part of the parenting arsenal to teach them skills needed to interact in the world. Your goal should not be to humiliate or to degrade but to lift up a child so they rise to the expectations which help them navigate life.
I always felt I could not discuss my ideas on parenting until some of them were grown and I could see how we did! Three of them have flown the coop... um I mean nest ;) I can see where we were very successful and where we did alright. I can see raising my children with too much input from extended family caused a lot of issues and places which now need repair (but this is a topic for another day and we have rectified this with the younger children). The cowboy and I can see that many of our methods gleaned the desired outcome of well adjusted, hard working, kind, creative, empathetic, and loving beings. Despite all our mistakes, trials, and misunderstandings we are proud of the people we have raised. We believed in Training Up our children and I hope we have succeeded
The primary keys to parenting, in my humble opinion, are consistency, loving discipline, patience, setting a good example, and having a healthy family village. Parenting should be a working, changeable relationship with your child. The most important rule for a parent is "pick your battles"! I ask my self on a daily basis, will this matter next moth, year, or in ten years? If the answer is no, then I try to ignore the behavior. We should be willing to admit mistakes, and ask our child for forgiveness when we mess up. We shouldn't be afraid of making mistakes, hurting their feelings, or erroring on the side of not giving them loving boundaries.
When my daughter was a preteen she went through the "mouthy stage" challenging us sometimes loudly and even publicly. We knew this was an important "battle" to be won. After talking about it, explaining, cajoling, etc etc, we knew we had to nip this behavior. One night at a school function she hissed at the cowboy, and told him she didn't have to mind him and wasn't going to. He very calmly asked her to go to the car, because if she wasn't going to follow instructions she would miss the opportunity to be out with the family. She refused. He very calmly picked her up, fireman style, and carried her to the car. Moments later he returned after dropping her off at home.
She learned her parents had boundaries but it also taught her that she has the right to have boundaries as well with friends and other relationships. She has the right not to be embarrassed by someone in public. Now, I know there are those who will gasp "You embarrassed that poor child... damaged her emotionally.. blah blah blah". I say cow pucky! She was warned ahead of time we would not tolerate the behavior and we followed through. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. No more is this more true than in parenting! She felt loved and safe because we were willing to do the hard thing and uphold our truth and boundaries with her.
Before my children were born I had so many ideas about parenting. When they were small the foundation was laid to prepare us all for a new relationship. Parenting is not stagnant. As my children have gotten older, they have learned we mean what we say. We follow through. Let your teen spend the night some where? Be willing to follow through and check up on them (we have driven many a late night on icy roads to do so). I have heard the "but you don't trust me" and my reply was " My job is to be a parent, and sometimes that means making sure you are safe and making good decisions... you can trust me to do my job" A child gets caught drinking or using tobacco? We made them self report to their coach. Yes, the consequences were big, but they learned a valuable lesson of being true to their word as they had signed sports contracts.
We have always told our kids if they self report to us first... before someone tells us, or getting caught, the consequences will be much milder. Providing consequences will not deter them from making bad choices and neither will it encourage them not to talk to you. In fact, my children have come to us many many times letting us know they have done something which was against house rules... they want to feel better when their conscience nags at them. Many times we just talk about what happened, without "punishment" or consequences in order to encourage them to continue to seek us out. We engage them in how things could have been handled differently. Other times they haven't come to us until years down the road, or they have confided in someone else who comes to us. It still gives us, as parents, the opportunity to communicate.
When they were younger, we had three hard and fast rules! Just three but everything fell under them!
1. Do not hurt others
2. Do not hurt things
3. Do not hurt yourself
When the children would break a house rule we would take them to the fridge where these were written. We would ask "Which one of these did you mess up on?" Sometimes it was one or all three. Usually they got away with a reminder and they would have to make it right with someone if they had hurt them. If they said a bad word, they had to scoop poop (either in the barn or yard...hey we lived on a farm) If they slammed the door, it was taken off the hinges for a few days. If they would not listen and were being extra rowdy, they had to run a lap down the driveway as I felt it meant they had excess energy they needed to dispense.
We always chose 3 behaviors at a time to work on. Everything else we let "slide" with reminders. One of my biggest pet peeves was not being able to talk on the phone when my children were small. We had a family meeting about it. They expressed sometimes we would get mad because they felt they had a genuine need and weren't being heard and they could understand what it was like to be interrupted. So, we devised a plan. If Seth or I were on the phone (or talking to someone in public) and they had a need, they would gently place their hand on our arm to let us know. We would, in turn, place our hand over theirs to convey we were aware of their need. It was our cue to either take a break from the conversation, or finish it up so we could address our child. It worked really really well.
Not to say everything in our house has run perfectly. Sometimes voices get raised... we are very animated as a family in fun and in dealing with issues. Sometimes everyone of us screws up, even us parents. It is about building safety and relationship. Families are messy business!
I know well meaning, and not so well meaning family, community members or school officials have accused us, one way or another of not being "good parents." This used to bother me and hurt my feelings. We have been accused of being too strict and too permissive. As my children got older, and we got more confident in our parenting, abilities and family. We came to realize that we just didn't give a darn what people thought anymore. It never ceases to amaze me people always know better how to do things from the outside looking in! They weren't raising our family... and how they chose to raise their family was their business. I remember grounding one of my children from a sports activity. It was a super harsh consequence to a behavior we just could not condone nor seem to conquer. We had a someone in our lives who was just irate about it, sharing it community wide.
I remember thinking how hard enough it was to parent SEVEN kids without constant criticism and judgement. This person felt we should just "talk to the child" We had... they weren't there the many many afternoons of talking. They weren't there when we gave the child the opportunity to correct their actions on their own. They didn't see mine and Seth 's agony over the situation and all the milder consequences we tried when talking failed. We KNEW the behavior was important and could have serious consequences for the kid down the road. We KNEW we had to nip it in the bud, no matter what others may think. We also knew we walked a tight rope with our children. The New Testament mandates children to "obey your parents" however it mandates parents with "do not provoke your children to wrath." I know we came pretty close and sometimes did "provoke" them. It is two steps forward and one step back in this role of parenting. I hope through example we have taught them that even though mistakes are made, you have to make the effort to make it right. When we messed up as parents, we apologized and asked forgiveness.
What I have learned from parenting can be summed up with "It's all about balance" and "Know Your Child." Sometimes just talking to a child will work. There are other children who only respond to very strict boundaries. One of our sons was a tornado when he was small. We learned really quick not to put him in situations who could not handle. Sitting through a long movie or church service was more than he could handle. I am sure we could have spanked him into submission. We chose to pick our battles. Behave at the grocery store, stay lined up like ducks from youngest to oldest and everyone gets a treat. Don't and no one does. He learned really quick his brothers and sisters were watching and were going to remind him not to get out of line. I can only remember them losing the treat once. The rest of the day he had to deal with his brothers and sisters being unhappy with his behavior. Next outing.. he was a good as gold!
I remember crying to the pediatrician " I feel like a bad mom, he wont mind unless he gets a swat." She really really helped me. She said "some children are wired differently. If you don't like spanking, you will have to figure out other physical consequences to help him learn". We saw a therapist and had to use therapeutic holding time with him (this is done in a certain manner under the guidance of a trained therapist!) The idea behind it was when he was out of control, we held him. Eventually he wouldn't need to be held and only be reminded. Oh, he kicked and screamed. The rule was we had to use soft hands and soft voices, reminding him he could be released when he was ready. He just had to stop screaming and kicking and had to say "let me down please." We were warned to only do this if we could keep calm and hold him as long as necessary. The first time it took him 45 minutes to calm down. Yes, a good quick spanking would have been quicker but it wasn't helping in the long term with curbing his tantrums. The second time it took 15 minutes. The third time all I had to do was ask "Do you need a holding time." He learned there were boundaries and he could regulate his emotions.
Some children responded well to physical activity. We knew if they had a lot of exercise, then there were less behavioral issues. If they were bouncing off the walls.. we told them to go run to a tree in the back pasture or do some jumping jacks. The idea is be creative with your parenting. Do not be afraid to try different things. Be a student of your child. Are they crying out for more attention with their behavior or just acting out because they need a release to their feelings. Are they being naughty. I have spoken with adults who can remember doing things to "tick their parents off" ... this would never have crossed my mind as a kid!
One of our children was quite dramatic and had people convinced I treated him differently than the others and even had others believing we were "abusive".Being that I became his parent when he was 4, I was so careful and concerned with my parenting of him. After many years of hearing this complaint, my response was finally "Yeah, you bet I treat him differently." I deal with each child how they need. His actions are his... his siblings are different... and how they respond to parenting is different.
People really thought a child would not lie or make up stories. There were several difficult years with teachers. other parents, or coaches giving us the stink eye, but we plugged ahead. (This is where a good family therapist is worth their weight in gold!) Seeing a neuro behaviorlist changed our lives! Bio feed back helped with brain processing issues he was having so he could better understand us, and we had the opportunity to understand why certain behaviors were occurring. Two years later it is almost as if we have a different kid, and life has settled down. During those years of chaos, it was hard to remind myself not to take it personally and not to give up. Unfortunately, I was the brunt of much of his frustration and anger, but we knew he was a stellar person and it was our responsibility to find a way to help him and not give up until we had succeeded.
I have seen the outcome of an unruly child turn into an adult who doesn't understand nor respect boundaries. In my opinion the cause of this is either over disciplining and micromanaging a child, or not disciplining at all. Balance your parenting, creating boundaries, letting them make a lot of choices for themselves, allowing them to have their own voice and feelings with the knowledge that sometimes they have to defer to you. We always told our kids if they didn't like a rule or consequence they were welcome to come to us 24 hours after the conflict and discuss it with us. We gave them an opportunity to "argue their case" respectfully and we would listen. It may not change the outcome, but at least they would be heard.
Last year I asked my daughter, honestly, where we did alright, and where we could have done better. She is such a beautiful, kind, and wonderful young woman of 20 now. She stated we allowed too much room for discussion (lol!) She felt we should have laid down the law a little more, and not allowed them to make so many decisions on their own. However, she was thankful we were the parents we were. She thanked us for attending games and activities and allowing them so many opportunities. She thanked us for being a loving place to land. She thanked us for giving her wings to fly and being proud of who she was.
Know your primary goal Ours has always been to build relationships with our children that helped them rise to adulthood in a manner in which their childhood was a springboard and not a stumbling block or something they needed to overcome.
Parenting is no easy task. Each family unit has to decide for themselves what tools they are going to use, and how they wish to run their home. I implore you to read all you can, from all sides of the parenting debate from those who advocate spanking and corporal punishment, to those like me who believe in natural consequences , to those who believe in attachment parenting! Everything I have read has helped me become a better parent.
We had a family bed, and allowed our babies to sleep with us. We spanked on occasion. We talked, grounded, had family meetings, and sometimes even (gasp) raised our voices. We asked for help when we needed it by attending parenting classes, counseling, or seeking help from other professionals. We discovered what worked and what didn't. We learned, we grew, we parented and we have always said "One or more of us may need more therapy when this is all over."
copyright 2012 Kimber Beech