This question was recently asked in one of our recent 28 Day Tame your Temper Parenting Challenge programs:
As I reflect on my childhood and growing up I wonder if we are creating parents who are too soft? What I mean by this is when I was younger and I did something wrong I would get a whack across the bottom with a wooden spoon – granted, this was a last resort and there were warnings before this, however I know that I learnt my lesson and wouldn’t be repeating that behaviour anytime soon. My parents were not violent in any way – yes they raised their voice when needed etc, but I was disciplined and I learnt respect for my parents – they were the boss, not me. When I fast forward 25 years and I look at all the rules there are around how we discipline our children today and the generation of youth coming through – are we being too soft? I say this because it seems we have a generation that has little respect for authority (be it teachers, parents, police etc) and I often wonder is this because there are so many rules that stop us from disciplining our children a bit more firmly? Please don’t take this the wrong way as I certainly don’t want to hurt my child and be a parent that resorts to this as I understand children repeat our behaviour etc – but it never did me any harm when I needed to be brought into line.
I’m hoping you can give me your thoughts on this as it’s something I do think about often when I watch the news and see these teenagers (who seem to be getting younger and younger) that are committing terrible offences and I ask myself where are their parents and why are they getting away with this?
It’s a question that many parents ask (although are often afraid to voice it out loud. However, I’m so glad that one participant did. This was my response….
The first thing that I want to say, is that there is value that comes from everything. Whenever we experience something painful, we learn. Whenever we experience something enjoyable, we learn. Highs and lows are a part of life, and they always lead to other highs and lows.With every approach we take with parenting, it will always lead to another consequence and another experience that will be learnt from and lead to more learnings.
My stand point on physical discipline is, yes it can manage behaviour, but there are other ways to go about it that are much more empowering to a child if handled correctly.
When, as children we did the ‘wrong thing’ in the past and got a whack for it, we did learn not to do that again, but what else did we learn in the process. After working with thousands of clients over the years, I see over and over again that at the core of parental/adult stress is childhood beliefs that came from how their parents administered discipline and how they treated their children. Of course this is not exclusively the cause, but very often it is very much the cause.
I see that parents who were physically disciplined grew up adopting a perception of self, such as…
- I’m not good enough. I didn’t try hard enough, wanting to please others, needing to please others to feel good enough
- The pressure to get life right or do more, be more, have more, achieve more to get life right in order to feel any sort of self-approval (the belief, only when others approve of me can I feel I can approve of myself)
- Wanting to be the peacekeeper because they hate the conflict that comes with challenges that stemmed from childhood conflict.
- Acting in the same angry ways because that’s what you do when you don’t get your own way. That’s what was modelled.
And this is not even an exhaustive list of beliefs that can be adopted from physical punishment as a child.
Now if you had a family environment as a child, where there was plenty of light and shade in the relationship – for example, your parents were open to communication, played with you, loved you, gave you loads of affection, flexibility, you had a say, etc, then the repercussions of getting smacked most likely paled in comparison to the reference points of love that you received from your parents, so you may not have gained beliefs from the smacking that still impact you today.
However, rarely was physical punishment delivered in this way, especially not at the time of administering it. Smacking is almost always chosen because of anger and issues of control from the parent. It’s more than likely not coming from a place of teaching you a lesson, but more to punish you for what you did wrong or trying to control you into submission.
Discipline, does not even mean punishment though. It actually comes from the latin word disciplinaire, which means – to teach.
There are other ways to teach children to WANT TO co-operate. There are other ways to teach children respect. There are other ways to teach children consequences for their actions that still teach them the error of their ways, but also teach them how to correct their own behaviour, but the issue is, these ways take time, repetition, consistency and patience.
If we fast forward to today’s society, from the time of physical punishment to now, the effects of smacking have been widely documented so we’ve been given a very strong message that smacking is a taboo approach to use, but the problem is, up until recently, there was no replacement offered for it either. This gap is what organisations like The Parental Stress Centre of Australia and PPP and similar organisations are trying to teach parents now – to help them know what to do instead of smacking..
The reason why we are seeing kids so unruly these days, is a complex one, and it’s not necessarily about the elimination of smacking but a combination of the fast paced nature of modern society, a pressure filled get-your-life-right-now society, the effects of an adult’s childhood self-worth issues and how they deal with their world and thus, their children, and the lack of information on how else we can teach our kids if we aren’t administering physical discipline.
On top of that we are seeing more strong willed children coming into the world with a confidence that won’t accept being bossed around and who, even if you resorted to smacking, are likely to buck the system anyway and move you even further from the relationship you want (unless of course you have loads of ‘light’ – fun, love, affection, joy, respect, communication, letting them have a say etc., to offset the very few times you use it when you’re not getting angry….again, a rarity).
So what you get is a generation of people trying to control children (parental, societal, educational), unable to do it and feeling at a loss as to what to do, leaving kids also confused, unloved, misguided and angry as hell because they aren’t getting what they want either.
It’s very common to see in human nature, that if there is no easy answer and things get too hard, it’s easier to stick our head in the sand. The problem escalates and we keep going round and round in circles. Hence why it appears that physical discipline was an answer that worked.
As part of evolution, we have learnt a lot about the long lasting emotional effects of physical discipline and so many parents aspired to eradicate it and do something different. But with all change, there must be period of transition, and that’s where I believe we are today.
People like myself, and those who are ready to take those steps towards change, join programs, like ours, because you’re looking for those alternative solutions, and that’s a great thing.
At the PSC, we are seeing kids become beautiful, co-operative, happy, confident kids because their parents are learning how to separate their own stuff, from their child’s behaviour – ie stop personalising it, resolve their own past hurts, and then approach their child’s behaviour from a place of teaching and modelling.
Parents are learning to accept the reality of where their kids are in their physical and emotional development and are approaching their behaviour in the spirit of co-operation, communication, kindness, connection, loving consequences and showing kids what respect, love and kindness is. Kids mirror this, because that’s how the brain learns, and so the cycles are slowly breaking.
But in this transition period, these ways are just starting to be learnt, adopted and mastered.
What is required is an educational approach, not a corporal punishment one. Isn’t that what we’re trying to stop in the world when we’re trying to create peace and stop war?
Our kids are just like us. They want the same thing as us – love, connection, approval, appreciation, to feel good enough. When we treat them that way, we show them how to be that way. When we teach them the realities of life through our consequences, teach them how to get what they want amicably, teach them to negotiate, and the benefits of showing others love and respect, they start to feel the discord of their own actions when they don’t behave this way. It won’t resonate with them. It won’t feel right. They won’t need you to teach it. They will FEEL it.
We don’t need to smack our kids to learn respect. We just need to show them what respect looks like. Let them FEEL the discord of their actions by asking them questions like:
Does that [behaviour] actually make you feel better?
Is there another way we can help you feel better that will actually get you what you want [because what you are doing isn’t actually going to lead you to what you want – ie tantrum, backchat etc]?
When you act this way, it makes you feel ‘x’, but if you do ‘y’ you will probably feel much better.
Or, how can you move towards a better feeling place and get more of what you want? Does this behaviour move you closer to what you want, or further away?
These sorts of questions help a child learn to be their own internal guidance system. It teaches them to make their own decisions. You still work with them on the rules, rewards and consequences (notice I said work WITH them) and they still experience the results of their decisions, but they start to learn they have choices and what feels good and what doesn’t.
As humans, kindness is innately born within us. We come from pure sensory energy where we know no labels or judgements. We are born with very few neural connections in the brain – enough to eat, sleep, heart rate and very basic human functions. The rest is learnt through environment.
If we show our kids how to feel the discord of our actions, show them how to be kind, respectful, remorseful, honest with ourselves, etc. If we teach them how to handle life’s ups and downs and see the value in our mistakes and challenges, and we teach them to feel good about themselves, then all this dysfunction we are seeing in our young kids will stop.
But we have to BE the change we wish to see in our kids and as a society we have a long way to go in letting go of our own stressful thinking lessons to find the ultimate balance in how to teach our children to feel good too.
It’s a big question and a big answer too, thus there are no simple solutions. However modelling how you want your child to behave and treating your home as though it’s a training ground for life by showing them cause and effects of their choices and decisions (ie natural consequences), are two of the most powerful tools you can use instead of using smacking for discipline.
Other relevant articles:
- Child behaviour solutions don’t work, so I get angry
- Anger isn’t WRONG!
- How to commit to Anger Management in Parenting