Or: I don't know if I should laugh or cry
Okay, this is one of those posts that I will get a lot of hate for. If your disposition is such, please skip this one altogether and save yourself the agitation. My goal with this post is not to upset, but to encourage those who believe the Bible by exposing the failures of humanistic parenting.
Another disclaimer: I have no beef with this lady personally. She is the example I am using to expose such faulty parenting philosophies as she embraces. But it's nothing personal. I am just honest enough to link to her rather than talk about her anonymously after quoting her.
Last week, I stumbled across a blog post entitled "The Consequence of using consequences". Being a mother in the 21st century, I was well aware of the fact that there are parents who think punishing a child in any way (ranging from a reprimand, to time out, loss of privileges, or [horror] corporal punishment) is always categorically wrong. It's also wrong to use the word "wrong", or "bad". The post in question, however, makes such parenting seem downright draconian in contrast to the parenting philosophy the author embraces (or rather, the lack of parenting).
- Where I’ve started to differ is in consequences that are meant solely to extinguish an unwanted behavior. For example, “if you try to put your hand on that hot pot again, then you will not be able to eat any of the applesauce that we are making.” The consequences there are to deter the child from touching the hot pot, but they don’t make much sense – that kiddo is probably just really excited to eat applesauce. Why not focus on that feeling of excitement instead of the behavior? (“It is so exciting to make special treats, isn’t it? I’m really hungry for applesauce too, but we can’t touch the pot because it is hot and we will get hurt. How about we set this timer, and when it beeps we will know that the applesauce is done cooking. While the applesauce cooks, let’s go play a game!”)
Right away, it is evident that this lady is sorely mistaking being a shrink for being a mother. Whoever said she had to give ANY explanation for why junior can't touch the pot? Whatever happened to "Don't touch the pot" instead of her lengthy monologue? So first she assumes that her child's psyche is so delicate that he can't just be told what to do without an explanation - oh, no! He might come to believe the parent is an absolute dictator! But then, the reason why a parent dare exert such authority must then be sweetened with much sugar and wrapped in cotton as to not upset the child. Somehow, we must convince the child that the only reason why he can't touch the pot is because it's not in his own best interest, not because the parent doesn't want him to. Naturally, the parent's needs and preferences don't matter. And instead of cleaning the kitchen together, we better stick with "out of sight, out of mind" and go play a game - because we know that as long as junior can see the pot, he will want to keep touching it for lack of negative consequences.
- Using rewards and consequences works against my goal of deepening my connection with my child. It may also work against my goal of encouraging my child to behave in a way that is respectful, safe, and kind, since rewards and consequences do little to teach children why certain behavior is inappropriate, inconvenient, or dangerous.
So, at this point I am starting to feel pity for this lady. If she is insecure to the point that she thinks telling her child what to do, or else, will hurt their relationship she must be very insecure indeed.
- Just the other day, I took Kieran and one of his friends to a gym for “open preschool gymnastics.” One of the rules of the gym is that only one child can be on their trampolines at a time. But darn it – those trampolines are fun, and Kieran and his friend wanted to jump together! I don’t blame them. I cannot tell you how many times I said “Kieran, please get off, it’s Joshua’s turn.” Or “Joshua, please let Kieran have his turn for another minute, then it will be your turn.” I cannot tell you how many times they ignored me. And so there were several instances where I was frustrated (because they were ignoring me) and embarrassed (because one of the staff members had to come over and ask the boys to take turns).
Well, of course they are going to ignore you. There is no negative consequence to their disobedience, only the positive consequence of getting to do exactly what they want to do. There is no such thing as there being no consequence. If the rewards of disobeying are greater than the negative consequences of it, why would they obey? Character and self-discipline are acquired through parents who instill such values in their children, not those who leave their children to be their own guide. And as far as being embarrassed - well, I guess the Bible is all too true that "a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame":
Proverbs 10:1 The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.
Proverbs 15:20 A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother.
- And what did I find myself doing? Doling out consequences. “Kieran, if you do not get off the trampoline right now, we are going to go sit on the benches for a minute so that we can calm down.” Would that have solved the problem? I don’t know – I guess he would have thought twice about getting on the trampoline when Joshua was jumping.
Please tell me it isn't so! Threatening the child with having to get off the trampoline, when he has been told to get off it! That's like saying "If you don't come when I call you, you will have to come when I call you!" What a scary consequence indeed. Which is why again it has to be sugarcoated as "so WE can calm down" - see, we're in this together! I mean, it couldn't be that you only are acting out of line, no! WE all are!
- I do not want to make Kieran’s chief motivation for behaving in a certain way to *avoid consequences*, and that is what doling out consequences teaches children. [...] I want to model for him – and for him to act out of – respect to others, concern for his own well-being, etc.
What a noble notion. But what makes you think you can reason with a young child who has never known anything but getting by with disrespecting his mother? Especially when it meant pleasure for himself, and getting to do whatever HE wanted to do?
- I believe that using rewards/punishments do not further Kieran’s safety or trust in himself or in me. I believe that they take away his desire to cooperate with me. I believe that consequences/punishments make him resentful, and rewards take away his inherent pleasure from whatever “positive” behavior he is doing.
I guess she has to keep saying "believe" because the facts of K's behavior clearly defy her convictions. Seems to me like K already had no desire to cooperate with her, was already resentful, and did not seem to experience any "inherent pleasure" - other than "the pleasures of sin for a season."
- What’s more, focusing on Kieran’s behavior tends to make me more frustrated. When I’m concentrating on how he might be inconveniencing me (i.e., if he makes a mess that I’ll have to clean up, or he is having a meltdown and it’s giving me a headache, etc.), I am making the behavior about me. When I concentrate on why he might be making a mess (he likes the feel of the flour running through his fingers! he likes to manipulate the water pouring in and out of the cups!) or having a meltdown (he’s hungry! tired! lonely!), I forget about how it affects me – I focus on Kieran’s needs, and I’m more willing and able to help him meet those needs in appropriate ways.
Yes, let's make cranky preschoolers and THEIR needs the center of our parenting universe. Nevermind the fact that we carried them in our bodies for nine months, faced death to deliver them, and have taken responsibility for them in every area imaginable since then - but let's not expect them to show any amount of reason in return, such as doing what we tell them. No. We have to prove that we are only telling them what to do because it's in THEIR best interest. Don't say "Stop screaming", or "Stop screaming because I have a headache and you are waking the baby". Say: "I understand you are frustrated because mommy has not been feeling well, and has been taking care of the baby. But it would make us all so happy if you stopped screaming and instead sat down to eat some ice cream" Sure, pacifying the monster is one way to handle the situation. I would prefer not to raise self-entitled monsters in the first place, though.
- For example, let’s say Kieran is throwing his toys across the room. I have a choice – I could focus on the behavior, and it might look like this: “Kieran! Stop throwing those toys! Look, you could break my nice picture frame. You could put a hole in the wall. You could break the toy. And now we have to clean up a big mess!” What kind of response would this get for me? Probably an even grumpier, sadder Kieran. Instead, what if I responded by focusing on the needs behind the behavior: “Kieran, I see you are throwing your toys. Are you frustrated about something? You were working on a puzzle over there, did you need help finishing it?” (Checking in to see if he’s frustrated) or “It’s been awhile since we had a snuggle and a snack, do you want to help me get some fruit cut up?” (Checking in to see if he has a creature comfort that has not been met). There are so many ways I could choose to make a connection with Kieran, rather than jumping to consequences.
Let me get this straight - in return for throwing toys, K gets a psychoanalysis, a snuggle, and a snack? How about a nice back massage while she is at it? I wonder if this lady shows similar grace and constraint when her husband (I'm assuming she's married, but who knows) does something unreasonable or wrong? That would actually be right, because he is above her in the line of God-ordained authority. But parents cowering in fear of their children - talk about a topsy-turvy world!
My approach would have been to smack the child's hand the first time it ever threw a toy. Not even a warning "If you do that again..." - because in the future, I don't even want them to do it the first time. I want to teach the kids to think for themselves: Is this something that may earn me a smack on the hand? Have I ever seen mom or dad throw toys? Has there been a similar incident in the past, and how can I apply what I learned in this situation?
Because this lady found her behavior less than perfect in retrospect (I agree, but for very different reasons), she came up with "Alternatives to consequences". The one that blew me away was #6:
- Help him identify his feelings: “It is frustrating to wait sometimes, isn’t it? It makes you angry that you have to let someone else have a turn. You really want to be on that trampoline right now. I wish I could jump on it too. Let’s jump here on the floor together and talk about how mad we are!”
Let's not just validate his feelings of self-entitlement and ANGER, but let's jump around on the floor together and talk about how mad we are that his "friend" is getting a turn, when really, we should be the only one on the trampoline ever. Wow, way to teach him to begrudge others for having something that we ourselves don't have, to gossip and talk bad about our "friends", to be angry for no valid reason whatsoever, and to then have to find a physical outlet for this sort of anger. Wow, that's just scary.
So what is my conclusion? That I am super mom and this lady isn't? Not at all. In fact, I am certain that I could easily have been duped into similarly stupid parenting notions if it were not for the Bible and its timeless truths. She is wrong not because she doesn't parent my way, but because she doesn't parent the Bible way. My parenting is only right as long as it lines up with the Bible, which is a goal I fail to attain - but at least I'm trying.
Pity the next generation of children who have to live in a world of "K's" grown into adults. My only consolation is that "parenting" such as this is pretty self-correcting: the parents either cannot handle more than one or two such children, or if they end up having more, the children will be expected to think about someone's needs besides their own.
Proverbs 19:18 Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.
Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
Proverbs 23:13-14 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
Proverbs 13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
Yes, dear readers, the sad truth is that some parents hate their children without even realizing it. They are perfectly content to let them turn out badly just so they won't have to lay down the law with them. They'd rather be buddies with their children than make them mad by being a parent. These parents fear that the child will hate them if they provide the discipline that the child is so sorely lacking.
While I didn't agree with everything said in a recent Wall Street Journal article, either, it was refreshing to see someone not base their parenting on worries about the child's psyche:
The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)
Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out.
I've thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets.
First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently. [...]