Even though 6 months have passed since our courts made it illegal to spank your child, there are still parents struggling with this restriction on their ability to discipline their kids. Many still believe that some children need a good spanking in order to get through to them. What alternatives are there for a parent who is at the end of their tether?
I want you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine that you’ve done something that your partner strongly disapproves of. I’m sure we can all think of such a thing. Something that annoys them or angers them and yet something we continue to do. Now imagine that your partner smacks you. Not a playful little tap but a full on hiding. What do you do? Do you smack him/her back? Do you cry? Do you hate your partner? Do you pack your bags and leave?
You see when our partner smacks us we call it domestic abuse. When we smack our kids we call it discipline. Is this discipline? Is any if what we call discipline best for our children?
The word discipline comes from the word disciple, which means to lead. Leading means being a good example of how things are done rather than telling people what to do. Leading does not involve hitting people or banishing them from your presence. Great leaders are generally patient because they can remember how it feels to not know what they do now and how to assist their disciples in going beyond their current state.
I think this applies equally to leading our kids.
When we punish them the focus is no longer on leading them but on destroying the relationship. Think about yourself in the scenario above. Did you love your partner for teaching you the right way to behave or did you hate them in that moment? It is exactly the same with our kids. Punishment has them focused on what you did wrong and how hurt they are or how they can get back at you. Guidance accepts that we all make mistakes and allows children to learn from theirs.
Next time your child ‘misbehaves’, stop. Breathe. Keep at the very forefront of your mind that the idea here is to lead by example, to forgive and to find out what’s really going on.
Does your child have some need that is not being met? Is your child’s love tank feeling a bit empty? Is he/she hungry? Tired? Hyped up on sugar? Is it possible that your child doesn’t realize that this thing that they are doing is not ok? Or that they’re in an emotional state that has taken them beyond the capacity to cope?
Now some people will fear that if they forgive their kids instead if punishing them then they will run rampant. So again, imagine yourself in the same situation. Imagine there were no laws or consequences to your behaviour. Would you suddenly start murdering and stealing and vandalizing? No. Would some people? Yes. But if you study those people (and, by the way, they’re the ones doing it even with the laws in place) you’ll find that the true cause if their behavior is that they feel unloved or unheard or that they are simply unable to abide by the rules that most of us take for granted.
Do we need to have boundaries with our kids? Of course. I definitely would not allow my children to hit me or speak to me unkindly or throw their food across the room. We also need to feel safe in our own homes. The thing is, most of the time they’re not doing things to deliberately upset me, because we have a really good relationship and like most human beings they care to maintain that. So even if they do cross a line there is no way that I will respond in a way that will violate this trust and safety for them. We do have rules in our house, but they are discussed together and agreed upon and understood. And, they are regularly updated to be appropriate for the children’s age and level of understanding.
Mostly, though, I do my best to be the best example I can of how to behave in the world and I explain to them why I do things and point out the consequences when I don’t. I’ve found that children don’t need violence to understand the basic concepts of getting on in the world. Just like we don’t!