Thursday, February 16, 2012

You Mean Everyone Isn't Parenting This Way?

Me and my family in our happy little bubble.
Sometimes I wonder if I parent in a bubble. My children attend a very progressive, Reggio-inspired preschool where the director and teachers show an amazing amount of respect for the children. My friends all parent their children with some version of empathetic, connected, RIE, reflective, positive parenting. Because I write this blog, I am in contact daily with amazing educators, bloggers and parents who talk about things like why television is bad for young children, or that it's possible to discipline children without shame, how there are no such thing as bad kids, and how taking care of ourselves is the key to not getting triggered by our kids.

And all of you wonderful people who read and comment on this blog or on my Facebook and Twitter pages are so inspiring. It is you who make me feel that there are so many of us who are changing the parenting paradigm, that we are raising a generation of children who will grow up with compassion, a sense of gratitude, and fully knowing they are loved for who they are, no matter what. 

And then I get a kick in the gut when something makes me realize that there is a huge percentage of the population that don't agree with these ideas that seem so irrefutable to me.

I read a great article on Tuesday by Melissa of Confessions of a Dr. Mom about spanking:
"So, I realize that whether you spank or not is just one piece of the whole parenting puzzle. Not spanking does not make you a better or more effective parent. However, by taking it off the table when it comes to parenting strategies, I believe it helps us grow as parents and understand our children better, thus leaving room for building a stronger foundation of trust and respect with our children. 
So, I urge parents to take it off the table once and for all. Start early by practicing positive reinforcement. Praise your child when she is engaging in sharing, using her words and getting to bed on time. Listen to your child when he is upset and crying. Validate his feelings even if you don't understand. Then proceed with your parenting rules."
Well sure, hit your kid with a shoe because he
ate some jam. You've got to show him who's boss!
Nothing there to argue with, right? Wrong. I was so saddened to see the comment section filled with not just disagreements, but hostility toward both Melissa and toward anyone who would suggest using spankings as a way to get children to be better behaved might not be the best idea. Of course, this article was written for a public newspaper blog. And the commenters are allowed to post anonymously, which more often than not leads to personal attacks and comments posted merely for shock value. But here are a few of the less crazy comments and, personally, these sadden me more than the overtly shocking ones:
"The overwhelming majority of kids who were spanked turned into fine upstanding adults as a result of it." 
"There comes a point in time when the kids tune the parent(s) out because their words mean nothing to them any longer, it becomes a broken record. Thats when another option comes into the picture and trust me, they have a hard time tuning you out when their rear is sore from the belt." 
"Gee, spanking didn't kill me when I was a kid. I think that if parents spanked their children as a response to them throwing the contents of a supermarket shelf on the floor enmasse the bad behavior would immediately stop. Instead I see the parent begging, arguing or attempting to reason with the child throughout the entire shopping trip to stop their abberrant behavior which they continue to engage in despite the parents pleas..." 
"My daughter [...] is due next month and if needed we will spank her...Will depend on her maturity to understand why she is being spanked. I have observed that kids around two can comprehend why a spanking is being given. The need is based on the circumstances, but I see it as an escalation of misbehavior from where no other forms of discipline is working." 
That last one really gets me. What child of TWO can understand why the person they love and trust to protect them suddenly hurts them? What can a child of two (or really any age) be doing that warrants being hit? It makes me want to cry for that unborn baby.

In reading the 8 pages (so far) of comments I began to feel so discouraged. How is it possible for so many to ignore the research that shows the multi-layered detrimental effects of spanking? How is it possible for so many to forget the trauma they must surely have felt as a child when they were treated this way themselves? How is it possible for so many to not understand that obedience shouldn't be the goal and that one must be respectful in order to be respected? Why is it that so many parents think that if a child doesn't do as we say the minute we say it that this is a mark of insolence? 

It eventually hit me that many of the pro-spanking comments left were ones made by parents who felt one of two things:

A. When children continually act out, parents are letting kids walk all over them and should, instead, take a hard line by showing them who's boss. 

B. The world is filled with over-indulged, obnoxious, entitled young people whose parents obviously were too wimpy to reign them in. Telling us to have respect for children and talking to children about the way they feel is just more of the same which will lead to more of the same. Kids need to respect their elders as they did when I was a kid!

Would you speak this way to a friend?
Then why would you do it to your children?
One of my favorite bloggers, Teacher Tom, wrote a fantastic post last year called "Spoiled Brats" that addresses the concerns of parents who think this way:
"It's hard, I think, for some people to understand the world without a hierarchical framework: someone has to be the boss -- if it's not the parent, it's the child. When I suggest paying attention to the words we use with children, avoiding the language of command, and instead choosing statements of fact which allow children to practice taking responsibility for their own actions, I understand how some people fear that it will become a slippery slope down which the whole carefully constructed family org chart will slide. I understand how it might seem that if you're not bossing your child, she will take advantage, gain the upper hand, and assume the scepter. To believe this takes a view of human nature that I've not found to be true, but I understand it. 
[...]The common wisdom, it seems, is that these behaviors come from not enough "tough love;" from parents who are afraid of their children, and are too namby-pamby to put their foot down, an approach popularized by such pop-psychology sensations as Dr. Phil. Sadly, this is not what psychologists who actually do research have found. So-called "spoiled" behaviors," in fact, result from things like not enough proactive attention from parents, not expecting children to do things for themselves, and a lack of clear limits, not a dearth of bossy parents."
is it crazy to hope for a world where people
truly understand what children need?
So, this goes beyond spanking for me and really boils down to whether or not we have respect for our children. We cannot have respect for them if we also feel we have the right to hurt, shame or scare them into doing what we want them to do. It is my belief that it is connection, not combat that will get me what I want when it comes to my children. It seems to me that yelling, spanking, even time outs are simply a quick fix for a parent, caregiver or educator who is at the end of their rope. Yes, Children can sometimes behave in ways that push us to our limits. But that doesn't mean we take the easy way out when that happens. If we want children who are respectful, gracious and kind, if we are truly committed to raising happy children who turn out to be happy adults, then we have to be willing to do the hard work that parenting requires. 

So I am throwing this out to all of you who who want to parent in a connected, loving way. Is there really a paradigm shift happening? Am I just fooling myself because I live in hippie dippy Los Angeles and move in the circles I do? Is there something more that those of us who believe in raising children this way should be doing to make this shift expand? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment below and let's talk about this!

Thanks for reading,
The Twin Coach
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