The debate about whether and how to discipline children has been ongoing for decades, hardliners arguing for strict discipline starting in infancy, with spankings and corporal punishment if necessary for toddlers and older. “soft-liners” are adverse to any kind of corrective action other than patient explanations of why a child should not engage in certain behaviors.
All cultures have ways of teaching children how to avoid danger and engage in acceptable social behavior—and all children need this kind of molding.
Unfortunately, much of what we call discipline is simply bad parental behavior. Being a parent is hard work, a realization that often comes as a terrible shock to new parents. Impatience, anger, scolding, shouting, confinement and physical violence to children can occur without any teaching motive whatsoever, but simply because the parent is impatient, angry, under stress or lacking self-discipline.
By the same token, the hand-off approach to discipline, whereby a child is rarely corrected, may simply reflect laziness or fatigue on the part of the parent. Some, in fact, much of such parental behavior may stem from poor nutrition, leading to low blood sugar, adrenal malfunction and neurological deficits. Truly, or diets for pregnant women and growing children applies to every family member if the family life is to be truly harmonious.
But just because some parents set a bad example and impose excessive punishment on their children does not mean that children don’t need discipline. Children need to learn that it is dangerous to go into the street and unacceptable to hit others or engage in destructive actions. As they grow, they need to learn to be helpful, to assist in chores, to refrain from anti-social behavior—and not because we are trying to force them into an arbitrary mold but because we want to give them the gifts of self-discipline, goal oriented behavior and successful integration into human society.
Type of Discipline
The type of discipline needed will change as your child grows. Discipline in the early months is completely inappropriate. Those who advocate “disciplining” an infant into a strict feeding schedule or toilet training, letting a tiny bay “cry it out” and similar behaviors don understand that those measures can only harm the non-comprehending infant, or perhaps they harbor a grudge against children or humanity in general.
Likewise, the type of discipline a parent engages in may be predictable on the nature of the child. Some children are docile and compliant, easily molded, and also easily injured by any sort of correction that isn’t sensitive and gentle. Other children may be more independent, even openly defiant, and require a stricter approach. Most likely the first things that require discipline are destructive behaviors like throwing, hitting and hair pulling. A stern look and a sharp “NO!” may be all the corrective measures that the child needs.
Distraction is a parent’s best tool. Is baby throwing objects? Let him scrunch up pieces of newspaper or magazine pages and throw those. Or move him outside where throwing is allowed. Has he colored on a wall? Explain that he can color on paper at an easel, not on the wall. You may need to use a stern voice and look for this one.
If some kind of punishment is needed, it should be immediate, appropriate, gentle…and even fun. Your toddler hits? He gets a three minute “time out” on the kitchen stool—you can even have an egg timer for this that he can watch. Your two-year-old pulls your hair? Five minutes standing in the corner facing the wall. Your child will understand what the punishment is for, will experience it as a teaching procedure, and rejoice that it is over quickly. Sometimes children will even climb on the stool or go to the corner on their own, stay there, and come away smiling. Gentle discipline is actually a joy for the child, a sign that the world imposes limits but in a mild and loving way.
Above all, avoid the temptation to frighten the child with lies such as “if you don’t go to bed a lion will come and eat you.” Children soon learn to lose all respect for parents who lie to them. But they will respect a parent who refuses to negotiate and simply states, “It’s time to go to be now.”
Good nutrition plays a definite role here—children who are well nourished seldom misbehave, are easy to correct and takes direction easily. A child who is malnourished, who lacks good fats in the diet, Who consumes pasteurized milk, or a lot of fruit juice and sugar misbehaves because he has a low blood sugar or feels awful. He may whine constantly, cry frequently, engage in destructive behavior—discipline in these cases only adds to the child’s misery. The remedy for the child who constantly whines and misbehaves is a nourishing traditional diet, not punishment for the parent’s unwise dietary decisions.
Sometimes even well nourished children can be very naughty indeed—these are times when scolding are appropriate. Your child should know that you are displeased. If you react to a bad behavior with a swift spank on the bottom, don’t be hard on yourself. Most important is following up with explanation and a hug, then even a story or time doing something together.
Along with good nourishment, the key to raising a happy, independent, well-behaved child is consistency, gentleness, patience—something that no parent can achieve one hundred percent of the time. But don’t worry: children are resilient and for the most part forgiving of our mistakes. Whatever style of parenting you adopt, your children are likely to grow up fine.