Being a parent is hard. Kids don"t come with instructions, a warranty or a return policy. Almost always they are raised by people who feel completely incapable of successful parenting. They want to raise happy, well adjusted and well behaved children but frequently find themselves with offspring who are anything but. What can they do?
Children need discipline, but in my experience most parents are ill informed about why, when and how to apply it. Since I have had hundreds of conversations on the subject over 20 years of medical practice, it seems appropriate to share some of the answers to discipline questions I have been asked over the years.
Question- When should we start disciplining our child?
Answer- When your child starts to do something, stops and looks to see if you are watching and then does it anyway, they are ready for discipline! Children vary developmentally but this usually happens by age one.
Question- Why should I discipline a child? (okay, so no one ever really asked this question specifically, but I have encountered a LOT of parents who needed to,hear the answer.)
Answer- Children are not naturally good. If left to themselves they will grow up to be selfish, disrespectful people who will struggle with relationships and authority. Don't believe me? Watch a young child for a while and you will see a child who has never been hit and never seen anyone be hit strike another 3 year-old who took his toy. It is in their nature.
Answer part 2- Discipline builds self esteem. How? Self esteem comes from knowing you are a good person. What do good people do? Good things and not bad things! Well established boundaries help a child know what good and bad are. This allows them to know when they are being good and then to feel good about it.
Question- What behaviors do we discipline?
Answer- Those that are rebellious or dangerous. Children need to be free to explore and express themselves without needless fear. A mom was in my office with her 2 year-old recently. The little girl wandered around the exam room playing with toys and opening cabinets. She opened the door on the changing table in the room, found a stack of diapers and took one out. The mom thought this was a learning opportunity and told the girl, "No! Put it back!" the daughter just stood there, and the mom repeated the command two more times before I interrupted.
"I wouldn't fight this battle," I said, "She is two and picked up a diaper. I would just take the diaper and put it back and be done with it." The girl had not done anything wrong and setting up the possibility of conflict made no sense. It is important to pick the appropriate battles.
Question- How do we discipline? Is it okay to spank?
Answer- Coming in a future blog post... :-)
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