Ben and I decided before Jonas was born that we would not spank our children. We just don’t believe that it is productive, and in fact, it can be a detriment to a child’s development. I have spent a lot of time reading about spanking in the context of a Christian home, and despite what many people believe, I am thoroughly convinced that the Bible in no way commands that parents discipline their children by spanking them; and in fact I believe the Bible supports a much more gentle approach to child rearing, but that is a topic for another post.
Lately, I’ve just been thinking about the ways parents interact with their children when correction is needed, and in particular what happens when parents choose to react to misbehavior in a physical manner.
Toddlers hit, push, take toys…They need to be taught how to treat others and learn why it’s not okay to do these things. Adult reaction to these behaviors is often physical. They resort to hand slaps, spankings and being physically rough (ie forcefully grabbing the child by the arm, etc). I understand how frustrating toddlers can be and how they can push your buttons which makes it hard to keep your anger in check, but I think there are much more productive ways to approach children.
I simply cannot get past the fact that there is a complete double standard. We don’t want children to hit and hurt others, and yet, oftentimes parents hit and hurt their children as a response to bad behavior. How this is supposed to extinguish the bad behavior is beyond me. Children learn how to interact with the world by observing their parents. If it’s okay for grownups to be physical when problems arise, why isn’t it okay for toddlers? Parents who resort to this kind of discipline, especially on a regular basis, are teaching their children that problems are solved through anger and violence. Sadly, they miss the opportunity to teach valuable life skills. It certainly is easier to punish, but what does it accomplish? Perhaps immediate compliance, but I venture to say not much more.
It seems that many people think reason is wasted on toddlers. I find that sad. Of course they may not be able to grasp everything, especially if we don’t keep it simple, but I think more than anything, approaching our children in love and gentleness when they misbehave shows them that problems can be addressed in a reasonable and calm way. They do watch and listen, and our actions make a huge impact on them. How do we teach them to show kindness and gentleness when wronged when we don’t give it to them when they are in the wrong? How do we teach them to empathize without showing them empathy? How do we teach them how to forgive others if we do not have a spirit of forgiveness?
This does not mean we let our kids run wild and overlook their error. On the contrary, they need to be made aware of their wrong, and most importantly, they need to come to understand why they were wrong. It makes sense to me that they would be most open to our correction when they can trust us not to yell or hit or demean – when we try to look at the situation through the eyes of a toddler and show some understanding when we correct them. Kids don’t need to be made to feel bad to learn. I certainly learn many things without feeling bad. It also often takes some time before I master a new skill or come to a full understanding of a new concept. Why should we expect children to learn any quicker? And yet, we do. We are easily frustrated when they throw their food from the highchair repeatedly or lash out when a toy is taken from them again. It is foolish and completely unrealistic to expect more from them than we do ourselves.
It’s not my intent to criticize. Parenting is hard work. Most of us were raised with some degree of punitive discipline, and we do what we know. We love our kids, and we do the best we can. Oftentimes though, our children deserve better.