Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A child who is loved and disciplined is a child who is fortified to survive and succeed in our world

Problems related to poor discipline are on the rise in this country. For many reasons, some of today’s parents have become discipline slackers - perhaps too tired to instill good habits or too busy to stand up to their youngster’s bad behavior. Is it because lenient moms and dads are trying to make up for time they do not have with their children? Are parents reading every possible book on the subject and then following trendy ideas about parenting rather than relying on common sense?

There seems to be a great misunderstanding about those four old-fashioned words, "Because I said so!" Some child raising specialists consider them repressive and potentially damaging. Other experts have convinced parents that the psychologically healthy family is a democracy. This sounds good. In fact, it sounds great!- The only problem is that it is pure fiction! Someone has to have the final say in any family and that someone should be an adult. Turn a family over to a child and that family is in trouble!

"There will always be a natural struggle between children and their parents," according to Dr. Herb Goldstein, St. Petersburg psychologist. "By testing boundaries, kids learn what can be done and what cannot occur." Therefore, according to Dr. Goldstein, "the effective parent will not prevent their youngsters from expressing an opinion nor will they forbid their youngster from disagreeing with them. Yet when all is said and done, one thing remains clear: Parents must make the final decisions."

The word "discipline," which comes from the Greek word "disciple," suggests teaching, rather than punishing. Punishment is used to wound, either physically or psychologically. Negative, threatening, and hurtful experiences are not the fertilizer from which healthy children grow. But children will not discipline themselves. They need a parent to teach them what is appropriate and what is not. Unfortunately, discipline is not a simple process since children are not simple people.

We all learned in science class that the world revolves around the sun. New parents rapidly relearn that the world actually revolves around their infant. Everyone does everything possible to keep the baby happy at all costs. No other creature so small has so much power. Yet letting the world revolve around a child forever is not the way to go. "To get along in our society, a child needs to know that while they are special, they are no more special than anyone else," according to Dr. Burton L. White, director for Parent Education in Newton, Mass. "They must learn where their rights end and other people’s rights begin." The sooner parents start setting limits, the better. If parents do not make the rules, the child will, and when moms and dads believe in "peace at any price" the price of ‘peace’ gets higher and higher. Remember, a youngster can never get their own way forever, so not setting limits will cause major problems as the child grows older. Children without limits will only demand more attention.

Good nutrition is analogous to good discipline: there are different requirements at different ages. The key to successful discipline is to gear it to a youngster’s stage of development. Although a loud "no" may get the attention of a toddler heading for the street, it does not quiet a crying baby. Expecting a preschooler to sit through a two-hour dinner is a bit much. On the other hand, treating a teenager as a toddler is also doomed to failure. It will have no effect to tell a toddler that they are grounded or give a teenager timeout.

Many parents are reluctant to limit their youngster’s behavior because they underestimate the child’s abilities. According to California psychologist Dr. Ferne Cheme, "if a child is old enough to do a particular activity, they are old enough not to do it. If they are old enough to touch, they are old enough not to touch. If they are old enough to throw an object, then the youngster is old enough to comprehend a command not to throw an object."

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to effective discipline is the often neglected concept of the parent being the parent. The parent is the leader and the child is a junior partner who does have input, increasingly as they mature, but does not have the final say. Furthermore, reasoning alone is also ineffective. Some experts believe that children have a right to know the reasons behind every decision a parent makes. Dr. Goldstein counters: "that’s often a huge or unrealistic waste of time!" Youngsters have a right to know in terms they can understand, and they have a right to know only if they are willing to listen. A child probably understands about 2-3 words per year of age when disciplining, so long discussion with young children only gives a child the attention they are seeking rather than the input parents intended. Parents should not talk through every rule, especially with toddlers who respect actions better than words. I love to hear parents of young children give them five reasons why they should not choke the cat. Others will sit for minutes with a screening toddler trying to explain why they must get on the examining table to be checked. As kids get older and begin to question rules, it's okay to reason with them and to ask for their ideas. Finally, if the truth is "Because I said so," youngsters have a right to know that too.

Future articles in this column will discuss age appropriate discipline. However, one thing is for sure: physical discipline has no place in raising children. Spanking does not have a lasting effect, and only impairs the child's confidence and trust in the individuals they love and trust. Spanking teaches a child that it is okay for a bigger person to hit a smaller person and offers no explanation nor does it offer any solution to the problem for which it is given. Moreover, if administered in anger, it may lead to child abuse.
A well-disciplined child is happy, well behaved, thoughtful, and respected by others. Children brought up without discipline usually become selfish, greedy, dishonest, unpopular, uncooperative and insecure. Undisciplined children also lose their tempers easily and are constantly demanding attention while being disrespectful to others.

No other subject in parenting is written about more but practiced less than effective discipline. Remember, when parents plead, bargain, bribe, threaten, give second chances, or long explanations, they are wishing for, not expecting obedience. No matter how eloquent or correct a parent’s explanation might be, most developing children see only one point of view - their own. Sometimes, it is better, without hint of threat or apology, to say simply, "Because I said So!"

In order for children to be safe and successfuly participate in society, they must be able to adjust to the rules. Parents must therefore provide their youngsters with a clear idea of appropriate and approved behavior. A child who is loved and disciplined is a child who is fortified to survive and succeed in our world.

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