Q. I am a parent of two children, ages seven and twelve. They are essentially obedient and good children, doing their homework, chores and respecting my husband and me. However, from time to time they don’t listen, yell and don’t follow through on our expectations. I have always been taught that having children fear their parents is a good thing to assure they will not misbehave. If they don’t realize who is the authority and who is in charge, they will test and push limits and start to rebel much more. From time to time my husband and I spank our children. This is when they are not listening and we feel we have no choice. However, these days teachers and friends, who have their own kids, are doing things differently. They admonish us for “hitting” our kids and tell us about other options. I inform them that we love our kids very much and do not hit them often and they need to know there will be serious consequences for their misbehavior. However, my husband and I are interested in a professional opinion and want to know your viewpoint?
A.This is a very relevant dialogue, as more parents are leaving the traditional authoritarian and hierarchical model of disciplining their children, for a more gentle and supportive one.
This approach does not discount that firmness, rules and expectations are part of a non-spanking way of parenting. Children need to know who is in charge and that, at times, parents will make decisions and have expectations that the kids won’t like. Parents see a fuller picture of a situation, carry a lot of responsibility, have a lot to teach their children and can greatly assist a child in working with their emotions and impulses and in cultivating their talents and helping them grow into aware, kind and well-functioning adults.
I think the base of good parenting is loving understanding and clear expectations that are reasonable, age appropriate and make sense. If they are explained well, often and with respect and support, most kids respond well. If there is greater stress in the family or the child’s life, he or she will find it more difficult to follow through. Developing effective communication skills is essential for any parent-child relationship. I think the book, How to Talk so Kids Will Listenand How to Listen so Kids Will Talk is very helpful in building this communication-foundation. There are many ways of being firm with a child, if that is necessary. These include giving consequences, warnings and rewards. Drawing on the natural desire in each child to want to cooperate, learn and be responsible on a consistent basis is the best approach.
Spanking out of frustration and anger is definitely hurtful to a child. He or she will end up feeling shamed, hurt, distrustful and angry. Those are not good feelings to inculcate while disciplining a child. Hitting is aggressive and can be violent. Violence begets violence.
Instead of using fear, a parent can use real life consequences that adults face in not doing what is needed in a situation. For more resources and information, you can look at the website: EndHittingUSA.org.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com