Thursday, April 9, 2009


I am still sick. Now I have a fever and chills. Tomorrow back to the doctor, unless the fever breaks and by some miracle I feel perfect. What are the odds of another kidney infection? In the same kidney? And if that really happens, why do I always win those odds and not the lottery?

However, I wanted to talk about discipline for a moment just to help flesh out some of my ideas about the topic. I am not a fan of making children eat soap or hot sauce or vinegar. Or spanking. Or locking children in their rooms. I feel these are coercive techniques that address transient behavior at the expense of permanent character development.

I was spanked as a child, up until I became smarter and faster than my parents.Sure spanking formed my character, but not in ways that incentivized me to behave. Instead I became sneaky. My parents finally put up the yardstick when I was 6 after I gave my mother a merry chase and then successfully hid until she couldn't find me. Kudos to them for abandoning something that was obviously not working and not continuing the power struggle.

As for children who don't extrapolate corporeal discipline into sneakiness, they tend to become compliant because they fear the pain. Yet I would argue that the job of a parent is not to create adults who follow the rules because they worry about getting caught, simply because it sets up a corollary where, if they are pretty sure they won't get caught, they do what they want.

If mom isn't there to force hot sauce onto their children's tongues, do kids behave? I would say, probably not.

The goal is to instill character in my children, not coerce compliance through domination and I personally (as well as many parenting experts) don't think corporeal punishment yields the results I'm looking for. I want them to behave even when I'm not looking, and that can only be done with fostering strong independent character.

I didn't give much thought to discipline before becoming a parent. It took me so long to get pregnant and that journey was so precarious, I didn't ever think much beyond pregnancy. I assumed I would use time outs and then I began reading books like Unconditional Parenting, which is an evidence based approach to what helps and what hurts. It's everything you've never heard about parenting.

An example from my own parenting: First a set up...There is an extreme form of operant conditioning propogated by a fundamentalist Christian couple name the Pearls.  According to this philosophy, at five months you can start smacking your baby when they do something you don't like. This inhibits undesirable behavior via a pavolovian aversion to pain. You aren't supposed to ever act in anger, but their methodology has resulted in many allegations of abuse.

While most people don't subscribe to this type of discipline, it is similar in effect to things like hot sauce in that domination and pain are used to control behavior.  When the babeola started grabbing at my jewelery and glasses around five months of age, per the Pearls, I should've smacked her. Instead, I took my hand and modeled gentle on her face, doing and saying the word. It was frustrating and annoying and required almost endless repetition, but, by 9 or 10 months, the babeola demonstrated understanding of and compliance with the word gentle.

This illustrates why I am not a fan of things like washing mouths out with soap. It teaches a very superficial lesson that, depending on the child, can be expressed many different ways. A few examples...

--I have no control/power
--I have to fight for control/power
--The adults in my life overpower me, I don't matter.

But emphasizing the concept gentle begins the process of teaching the babeola how to treat people without diminishing her own power in the world.

Now with all that being said, I bet you dollars to donuts, the babeola will have a time out at some point. There has already been one day where she 'took a break' in her crib because momma was about to lose it! I am sure I will fail all the time and make enormous mistakes. We are all just doing the best we can so I do not mean to pass judgement in any way, but I think this is the kind of stuff worth learning more about.

You can read a large swath of the UP book here, the link takes you to the time out section which I thought was a revelation.


T Rex Mom said...

My little one is just starting to "express" himself. I've been reading "Happiest Toddler on the Block" - it has helped me (and him) so much. And it also tells what to do when you do make mistakes. We're human parents and definitely not perfect!

Oh, I have a degree in child developmental psychology. I still feel like I don't know enough on the matter. Thanks for the info.

I hope you feel better soon!

Hot Belly Mama said...

I always love your posts. I am actually reading U.P. right now and we are waiting on the video from the library as well. I am a little conflicted by some of his ideas because they certainly do challenge you!

Recently, we had a five year old nephew stay the night at our house and he just about broke us down. If I could ever call a kid the "worse misbehaved kid ever," it would be this poor little guy. I finally gave him a timeout after he threw rocks at the cats and went running down the driveway with an axe in his hand. Thankfully, his mom showed up 5 minutes later. My poor husband said, "god, I hope we're having a girl."

I have 12 neices and nephews, so I assured him that not all kids are this way!

Jenners said...

I hear you ... discipline is a tricky little road. I don't believe in spanking or physical punishments either. But I do believe in time outs (they are as much for me as for him). We tend to go with the cause and effect form of discipline so he learns that his actions have consequences. He gets one or two warnings about a behavior that is unacceptable -- including an explanation of why. If he continues, then he loses one of his favorite toys for a time. This gets his attention and he considers is punishment. Plus he learns that his actions has consequences. It is pretty much enough now to just have to say "Do you want to lose your Lightning McQueen car?" He gets it. And, on the flip side, we have a little stash of cheap toys that we use to reward him when he does something really good or makes progress. He doesn't ALWAYS get them but he gets them enough that he is reminded that good behavior can bring rewards too. Plus we praise him to the moon when he does something we like. He is a pretty good kid so I think it is working. We still have our moments though. When he gets completely irrational and cannot be reasoned with, I just let him cry it out until he calms down. Though now we are entering a new phase of "don't always do what your friends do because it might not be right" which is proving to be a little tricky and more complicated. Sigh. This parenting never gets easier.

Hope you feel better soon. And perhaps you SHOULD buy a lottery ticket.

The Write Girl said...

I hope you do feel better.
This is a very insightful post about raising kids. Children should learn to do what is right through positive reinforcement whenever possible. I like the thoughts you've shared here.

Musings of the Mrs. said...

I hope you are feeling better. I have spent a lot of my pre-kid time thinking about discipline too, because of the way myself and my husband were disciplined. I also don't want to spank. I hope my patience will grow with age.