The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, according to a new meta-analysis of 50 years of research on spanking by experts at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan.
In order to be relevant in your children’s lives from their early years onward, it’s important to change your parenting styles to match their temperaments as they grow.
f parents could have their way, they would take control of their children’s lives forever. They want them to make the right decisions, get into the right schools, meet the right people, have the right (i.e. similar to their own) values. But what parents need to know is in order to stay relevant in their children’s lives, they need to relinquish some of that control they so greatly crave.
“Benign neglect” is the phrase that best describes my parents’ approach to parenting in the 1970s. What today might be called “free-range parenting” or actual neglect, back then was just childhood.
“Seeking the ‘railings’ he needs to feel secure, a child will continue to test a caregiver until boundaries are clearly stated. Power struggles are a necessary part of the development of ‘self’ for the child; however, the outcome must be that the child knows that the adult is in charge. Children do not usually admit this, but they do not wish to be all powerful and the possibility that they might be is frightening indeed. Children raised without firm, consistent boundaries are insecure and world-weary. Burdened with too many decisions and too much power, they miss out on the joyful freedom every child deserves.”
Great advice from Janet Lansbury – Elevating Child Care
A PARADIGM SHIFT
An experience I had with my son has always stayed with me, because it so beautifully illustrates Principle One (Relax), Principle Two (Slow Down) and Principle Three (Empower). When my son was sixteen, he got his driver’s license. We lived in the rural Ozarks, about four hours from St. Louis, Missouri. We were driving home from the store one day, and he said, “Mom, I have a friend from Colorado who is visiting his parents in St. Louis and I want to go up there and see him. Can I borrow your car?” I immediately reacted, “Absolutely not! No way am I comfortable with that. You haven’t had your license for that long!” His face fell, and he became very quiet. A heavy silence fell over the car, and I felt bad about disappointing him, but I felt I had reacted the way any mother would.
Later that afternoon, he came to my office and said, “Mom, would you please sit down? I need you to read something.” He handed me a letter (printed here with his permission):
“Issue: Mom has written books on parenting, motherhood, etc., so why the problems with me? Idea: Everything has basically turned out great, except for a few things, ie., responsibility, defiance, and laziness on my part. My idea is that a lot of this stems from a lack of trust. In other cultures such as the old time Native American ones, there was a point at puberty when a boy was initiated into manhood. This was done in many ways, sometimes painful rituals or taking him on his first hunt or whatever.
These ideas were brought to me by a TV program I was watching where a father was having trouble with his kid, and his way of trusting the kid was to let him use the welder’s torch for the first time. I think that by showing this trust it motivated the kid to show responsibility to the parent, which started this value within the kid. I know you trust in God to guide me. But I’m not sure you have any faith or trust in me personally.
One incident that supports my idea is, surprisingly, from my stepfather. When he asked me to take his car to have the tires changed, I realized he was really trusting me with this, and I agreed and eagerly helped him, which is unusual for me. What’s more, however worried he was, he never displayed it to me. He didn’t even say, “Be careful,” which meant a lot to me, and I drove as carefully as I ever have. My point is, well, I don’t know really, but it’s just an idea, and I hope you will consider it.”
As I read this letter, my eyes filled with tears, for so many reasons. To me it was a culmination of my entire life as a mother, to have him sit down and be able to work out his thoughts this way. Then to be able to communicate them so clearly, to stand for something he believed in and to back it up, to evaluate his own behavior, and to tell me how he was feeling and why he was feeling that way.
I had an instant paradigm shift. This was a way for me to double-check how my principles were guiding my parenting . I was out there empowering everybody else, but was I really empowering my son? He was right. And that’s what I told him. I looked him in the eye and said, “Honey, you are right. I’m wrong. You can take my car to St. Louis. I trust your judgment that you can do this. Let’s just work out some ways you could check in to keep my fears at bay.”
He burst into tears, threw his arms around me, and said, “You’re the best mom in the whole world.” He cried from his heart. He came back later that night and said, “Mom, you know what? I don’t need to go to St. Louis.”
That was a great turning point in our lives. It made the rest of his teenage years so much more smooth, and all of my daughter’s, who was coming up two years behind him. From then on, I was usually able to remember these three principles — to relax, slow down, and empower my kids — to release my fear, trust them, and watch them come up to that trust. I tried to empower them, to help them get the skills to do what they wanted to do with their lives, not what I wanted for them. Sometimes, happily, these were one and the same. But sometimes they have been very different, and I never allowed our differences of opinion or our different lifestyle choices to come between us. I tried not to let my fear run my reaction to whatever they thought or did at the moment. Even if their choices were vastly different from mine or from what I wished they would choose, I tried to empower them to go as deep as they could, to operate from principles, and to explore and believe in whatever path they chose. In this way, we were (and are) all constantly learning from one another and staying close and bonded, no matter what the external circumstances of our lives look like.
Now that my son is an adult approaching 40, I’ve been able to see the result of my parenting with principles. I couldn’t be more proud of him. I admire him deeply. We continue to communicate in empowering ways, and I am so glad I learned about this early on.
EMPOWER YOUR TEENS TO TAKE HEALTHY RISKS
Dr. Lynn Ponton, a veteran University of California child psychiatrist, thinks that parent should rethink their conclusions about adolescence as a hormone-driven, continual state of rebellion. The teen years as a natural time for taking risks as children begin to exercise their choices, test their abilities, and discover their identities. Western cultures have come to believe that adolescence is a time of unpleasant upheaval. Dr. Ponton says that this has “blurred the lines between normal, exploratory behavior and behavior that is dangerous. . . When we assume that all risk taking is bad, we fail to recognize both the very real dangers some risks pose, and the tremendous benefits that others can be.”
Research shows that 80 percent of adolescents — including urban youth — negotiate the teen years with few problems. Dr. Ponton counsels parents to discuss healthy risk taking with their kids, and teach them how to weigh the dangers and benefits of a particular activity and how to know their own strengths and weaknesses. She says she often sees parents of teens being extreme — either too controlling or abandoning their kids to negative risk taking.
Teens need and want adults in their lives to help them evaluate risk and to help direct their behavior in positive ways. Parents can help by providing information about difficult subjects like sex, drugs, and alcohol, and by modeling positive risk-taking behavior, such as speaking in from of an audience, learning to ski even though you may be afraid you’ll fall, or participating in other medium—risk sports. Discuss these choices with your kids to show them the process of evaluating risk; educate yourself and your teen, in a safe manner, how to protect oneself and then take a risk.
© 2015 Vimala McClure
How do we discipline our kids? There are plenty of violent prisoners in penitentiaries who were disciplined as children with spankings, beatings, screaming and neglect. Though I had my children take “time out” sometimes, now I question the popular use of that as a disciplinary technique because it links quiet time alone with punishment.
When children, even toddlers, are given explanations for rules, allowed to voice an opinion, and even to disagree, they become more skilled at exercising their power, their social “muscles,” when they relate to others and learn to cope with problems by reasoning out the right responses. It may take more time to talk than to hit, but, in the long run, the lessons you are teaching will be more far-reaching and will develop a broader range of social skills in your child. Use reasoning to help your child understand the concepts of restitution and making amends, to understand that apologies don’t automatically excuse them from out-of-control behavior and that words can hurt as much as punches. Many research studies have concluded that the use of reasoning and discussion as disciplinary tools is one of the most effective ways to foster a child’s positive moral development.
One inventive mother went to a nature store and purchased several small rocks with words carved on them such as: sisters, brothers, family, love, kindness, peace, truth, forgive, gentle, cooperation, and so on. When one of her children misbehaved, she chose one of the rocks and gave it to the child, explaining the word and what it meant in this particular situation. She repeated the word several times, having her child repeat it back and explained its definition. The child was the led to his room or a “safe place,” and asked to think about what that word meant to him for fifteen minutes. Then his mother would retrieve him and they would discuss the word. In this way, the child was not punished, but an “intervention” took place, which allowed the child to learn values and connect those values to his behavior.
2. Learned Powerlessness
There are many ways we unknowingly teach our children to be helpless rather than empowered. Helplessness is taught by:
- Doing things for children ins teach of teaching them, in steps, how to do it themselves.
- Explaining poor performance in school in terms of intelligence or inability, instead of effort or motivation.
- Explaining the cause of difficulty as internal (“You’re not good at that”) rather than external (“You can try harder next time and do better”).
Girls are socialized to be more vulnerable to criticism and tend to interpret it as permanent and pervasive rather than temporary and external. The are more likely to explain difficulty as their fault, due to their character defects, whereas boys are socialized to attribute difficulty more to outside circumstances or temporary lapses. So with your girls be especially conscious of explaining, when disciplining, that when they’ve done something wrong it does not mean there is something wrong with them. Explain that wrong behavior is something that is temporary, related only to the subject at hand and is something that can be changed. Remember also that we all need to feel we have some control over a situation and/or our feelings about it in order to develop resilience and resistance to adversity. Helplessness robs us of resilience.
Tai Chi’s “listening power” can be used to reason with your kids at any age. In this practice, you stay with them and feed back to them in your own words what you hear them saying about something they have just done, felt, or experienced, from their point of view. Stay with them long enough to be able to act like a mirror, helping them reason their way to the conclusion that delineates right from wrong. You can help them “be their own boss,” and evaluate their own feelings and actions. You can help them see how consequences are tied to actions, and how, if they have done something wrong, they can make amends with dignity. At first you may sometimes have to take the role of teacher and guide them firmly through this process. When you do this, try to refrain from filling in silent spaces with lectures. When your feedback is wrong, they will let you know. Be patient and ask them with sincerity to explain again what they mean.
Dr. Suzette Hadin Elgin says that “Talking to a child, especially after the age of five or six, is essentially the same as talking to an adult you outrank.” They understand much more than they are given credit for. She also says, “You have to let a child choose and introduce the conversational topic. You must support that topic every few sentences. And, hardest of all, you have to listen while the child talks, with your heart, your head, and with full courteous attention.”
When you ask your child to do a chore, be sure you include all the information he needs. For example, instead of saying, “Jack, take out the trash,” you could say, “Jack, please take out the trash right now because the garbage truck is coming at noon.” Tone is important. Try as hard as you can to use a respectful, relaxed tone that assumes your child wants to help. Along with your tone, smiling eye contact or a touch can help communicate your positive intention. If you mess u-p, apologize. Say, “I didn’t mean to sound harsh” (angry, impatient, and so on). “I’m kind of stressed out right now and could really use the help.” Be sure to thank the child when the task has been completed. At dinnertime, you could say, with an eye-contact smile, “Jack, it was a great help to have the garbage taken out on time. Thanks a lot.”
Try to be alert to whether your child is hearing what you are saying the way you want her to. If you feel a negative reaction, you can say, “I’m not sure I said that right. Let me try again.” Or, “Did I say that in a way that didn’t feel good to you?” Again, communicating respectfully with your kids help them learn respectful communication and empowers them to take responsibility for themselves and the way they communicate. You are laying a solid foundation for their future relationships, so it is definitely worth the time.
© 2015 Vimala McClure
1. Communicate With Your Children, Not At Them
Practicing Empowerment gives us the ability to recognize that each child is entirely unique, with his own personality, needs, and thresholds. So parenting has to be tailored to the individual. This means there are very few rules that everyone must follow, and the few rules there are will be subject to change from time to time, with the child’s involvement. New rules may be put in place and old ones deactivated. Because there is open communication, the children understand that a rule for a toddler may not apply to a seven-year-old. Things are explained, not just declared. When a child feels he has been respected enough to be a part of the rule-making process, he has a stake in the household and is more likely to follow the rules.
Martial arts expert Dawn Callan, in Awakening the Warrior Within, talks about empowerment in our culture:
“Our entire education, beginning with our parents (even those with the best intentions), and including our schools and religious systems, has taught us who we ought to be, so that we fit the accepted mold, rather than supporting us to break the mold and be ourselves. We have been taught to be controlled rather than to have our own power.”
We want to try, as much as possible, to encourage and allow our children to express and use their power appropriately, without overpowering or disempowering others in the process. We want to work in partnership with our children and teach them to be in partnership with others. If we are to do this, we have to learn to do it ourselves.
Babies and toddlers rely on their parents’ and caregivers’ reactions to learn how to respond to uncertain situations. They observe their caregivers and learn about their environment through indirect experience. If a child leaves toddlerhood without trust in his caregivers and a healthy sense of his individuality and his personal power, problems can arise later on in adjusting to social situations.
Privacy is an important part of Empowerment. Each child needs things his or her own that no one else, not even Mom or Dad, is allowed access to without permission. Knocking on doors and requesting permission to enter respects privacy. Manners such as “please” and “thank you,” “may I,” “good morning,” etc., practiced consistently by parents and taught with love from infancy, help reinforce dignity and respect for oneself and for others, an important part of Empowerment.
3. Choice Making
Previously I discussed choice making, another crucial aspect of Empowerment. Use every opportunity you can to help teach your children, 1) that there are many choices in any situation; 2) which choices lead to health and happiness, feeling of self-respect and dignity; 3) that they do not have the right to make choices for others; and 4) the consequences of choices can be far reaching.
There are endless opportunities for discussion of these topics. Television shows and/or news stories are filled with them. Point out what came before an act of violence or self-destruction, and ask kids what other choices that person may have had. Underscore the idea that we always have choices and can make nonviolent, life-enhancing choices in every situation.
4. Empower Your Children to Make Healthy Choices
Dealing with food gives us plenty of opportunities to learn about choice. When my kids were little, I would let them have a sugary treat, and then later, when they got grouchy and mean, I’d point out the connection. Then I would give them a protein snack (even just a spoonful of cottage cheese) and their dispositions would radically improve. I’d point out that it was the protein making them feel better.
Eventually, they became aware thane of their options when feeling grouchy was to have some cottage cheese, nut butter or other protein, and they would feel better. They also knew they might feel jittery and bad if they chose sweets. My son, of his own volition, stopped eating chocolate altogether because he hated the “hyper” way it made him feel. He knew this wasn’t the case for everybody; it wasn’t a value judgment.The choice was purely his, from his own experience. I helped him discover the connection, and he took it from there.
5. Share Your Own Choice-Making Process
Be sure to share your own choice-making dilemmas with your kids. As they get older, ask for their opinion. Let them know clearly that you are making your own decision, but you are interested in what they think — that way they won’t feel responsible for your decisions. Then tell them what you decided and how you came to it. Show them how you get more information when you feel you don’t have enough to make a good decision. Always maintain your dignity in the role of parent, and your own personal power. It is a huge mistake to turn that power over to your kids. They want you to have already figured out some of this! They need a strong model to show them how to make appropriate choices and to point out the consequences to them.
6. Empower Your Children to Care for Others
Have the older children help take care of the younger ones. I’ll never forget how common it was in India to see a nine-year-old with a baby on his hip, and how rare it is in Western cultures for siblings to “mother” one another. This can be taught in many ways, and changed as the children grow older. An older child can massage a baby. It helps them bond and helps the older child realize this new being is a real person, a brother or sister, to be loved and protected. They can imitate your techniques, but keep it simple, with easy rubbing motions. They love getting massage oil on their hands and feeling grown-up in the way they care for the baby.
Older children can push the baby in a stroller, pull a wagon with a toddler in it, (with supervision, of course), help pick out baby items at the supermarket, or help feed the little ones. As a baby grows, the sibling bond becomes stronger, the baby is more fun to play with, and they become both friends and rivals.
7. Teach and Model Empathy
I suggest having fairly strict rules in place about hitting, such as “in our family we never hit each other.” This statement of rules should always be given with “sinking power” — first ground yourself, relax, get powerful from your very core, and deliver the directive, eye to eye, in a way that says it is non-negotiable. This can be a powerful message that sets the stage for nonviolent conflict resolution later on.
Teaching children to respond with empathy to a younger child’s distress helps them learn to behave more selflessly later on. You can extend this outside the home, and have children help in charitable activities that have a direct and positive impact on those in need, such as visiting the elderly, making deliveries for a food bank, and raising money for charitable causes. Research has shown that children who learn to care about others and are involved, even in small ways, in helping others in need, are at a lower risk of developing depression later.
Children who learn to be empathic (to feel another’s pain and want to help them) — and learn to stand up for what they believe — perform better in adult life in their work and social lives. On the other hand, kids who are raised being disciplined by physical violence, force, humiliation, embarrassment, or withdrawal of love grow up having great difficulty feeling compassion for others. Every man who batters his wife has a skewed view of his actions; he usually believes she deserves it and it is “for her own good” (this also goes for parents who beat their kids). It is minimized in his mind because when he saw it done as a child, or when he was a victim of violence, he was told it was not abuse, it was discipline — or else he was lied to — “Mommy fell and broke her arm.” Most abusers don’t even realize their behavior is antisocial or wrong because overpowering and disempowering control was so normal in the homes of their childhood.
© 2015 Vimala McClure