“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom.
But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood――establishing independence and intimacy――burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships.
She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.” - Judith Lewis Herman
I wrote a blog about the 8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Spank Your Kids and the 9 Reasons Why You Defend Spanking Your Kids. Many people showed their support for my stance on spanking. Some showed opposition. To those who say that the only way to raise a “respectful, decent child” is to physically abuse them, this post is for you. I would like to open your eyes to alternatives to spanking.
As parents, we tend to think that our job is to teach children how cruel the world will be and how it works. WRONG! Your job is to teach your child empathy, self respect, confidence and security. Your job is not to tear them down or prepare them for the harsh world they will soon be entering. You should be offering your child a safe, secure place to come to when the world does what the world does, namely squish every hope and dream a person could ever have. That’s where you come in. You are the encourager, the motivator and the reminder of what love and support is. Your job is to make them feel like they can reach the stars, so that eventually, they do.
You may be thinking, “Why is everything about me? I thought this was a post about my kid.” Well, because more often than not, when a child gets in trouble the parent’s unrealistic expectations are the culprit. “But, my two year old won’t stop screaming! Why is that?” Hmm… maybe it has something to do with the fact that he or she is two. Your expectations determine whether your child is behaving properly, not the behaviors themselves. You are the parent, you make the rules based on your… say it with me… E-X-P-E-C-T-A-T-I-O-N-S.
It really is simple to do. Take some time to read about your child’s mental understanding at each age or grade level. Books on the subject are infinite. When you understand their way of thinking, you can adjust you expectations to a more accurate level. For instance, you cannot punish a 3 year old for lying when they do not have the mental capacity to understand what lying is. Research on the subject will help you relieve stress as well. It is much easier to accept a mess from a four year old when you have the understanding that four years olds make messes.
Hands down, this is be greatest thing you can do for your child. You can repeat, discipline, encourage, discourage or command your child to take your advice or do as you say all day long. However, none of that will matter if you are not walking the walk.
I have observed and personally experienced the tragedy of “do it because I said so.” For generations, children (ourselves included) have laughed at parents screaming at their kids to “stop screaming” and other hypocritical parenting blunders. At some point you just have to break that ironic cycle. Why not start with you?
As I said before, more often than not, the problem isn’t the child. The problem is your stress level, your expectations or your feelings. Before you scream or before you dish out punishments that you will never follow through with, take a 20 second time out. Take several deep breaths. Once you have given your anger or frustration a firm kick in the toosh, you can see with both eyes open. You can determine if the problem is you and your stress level or if your child needs some guidance. This brings me to number…
I have learned through personal experience how well this works. I used to be the parent who yelled or spanked in an attempt to change my child’s behavior. It never worked. They’d always do something more extreme in retaliation or simply out of hurt feelings. (Remember: a child who feels good, acts good.) I knew that I had to try something new.
I read book after book. Each book helped, but it wasn’t until I thought of a real life example of happy, well adjusted children that I discovered the secret. I will not name names, but a woman I knew growing up used her mental strength to guide her children, instead of her physical strength to punish them. She had open communication with her children their entire lives, even into their adulthood. Her children knew that no mistake would be judged. She had open ears and arms that guided her children into a kind, responsible adulthood. I live by her example. I always listen and use my intelligence to change my child’s perspective. A punishment seems like a deterrent, however the only sure deterrent to negative behavior is a change of heart.
In many ways, toddlers are like puppies. Logic and reason does not work on them. Arguing rationality with the irrational is in itself irrational. Punishing a toddler or baby for a behavior that they are not in control of is not only cruel and unusual, it is not logical. A mother who yells at a one year old to do A, B or Z is just C-R-A-Z-Y. The kid cannot talk and can barely walk. Hell, just a few months ago they couldn’t even breath on their own. Yelling, hitting or putting them in time out is just a waste of time, not to mention heartless.
Toddlers are primitive. They survive on basic inherent functions. You have to keep this in mind at all times. If a toddler won’t stop jumping off of the couch and you are worried for their safety. Do not yell. Go get their favorite toy or book and redirect their attention. It works every time, is age appropriate and saves time and energy you could devote to “you time.”
One of the biggest reasons kids take advantage of their parents is because they know they won’t follow through. You tell your kid that they are grounded for a week, but give up after two days. You tell them that they will never be allowed to have a toy if they scream for it, but you give it to them anyway. Not following through teaches your child two things. One, that follow through is not a virtue or an important value to have. And two, that they cannot trust you. A child will not listen to an adult they do not trust. You encourage bad behavior when you do not follow through.
Stick to your guns, parentals. You have to walk the walk, mean what you say and outlast the load of crazy your child will inevitably throw at you. Kids need to know that you will not break down and that you can handle anything they toss your way. Why? Because they will learn to handle stress and impossible situations from you. They are sponges that absorb every little thing you do. If you never falter, neither will they.
As if Mom guilt wasn’t enough, right? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but pretty much everything your kiddo will do is going to be your fault. Kids are always watching. They see and hear your reactions on a daily basis. They will absorb your mannerisms and reactions if not through observation, then through genetics. Before you punish your child for yelling or snatching or hitting, you should look at yourself. If you are yelling at them, snatching from them or hitting them, then you can’t be mad at them for doing exactly what you taught them to do. You are their idol. They will live the way you live. Make sure it is something you would be proud of.
Kids thrive in a positive environment. In fact, everyone does. Try to make your home a positive place full of love and void of judgement. Some parents think that their judgement helps children to accept criticism. Look, the real world will be full of criticism. Your child doesn’t need to come home to a parent full of it, too.
I will leave you with this. Your home should be a safe haven. A warm, loving place where your child can feel safe and free. Society is going to teach them every hard lesson they could ever learn. Leave the tough lessons to the world and the lessons of love, compassion, responsibility and confidence to you. If you give your child encouragement and support, there will be nothing that they can’t do. If you discourage and abandon them in times of need, there will be nothing that they can do.