Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's wrong not to know what's wrong

My five-year-old son stole a piece of cake. When confronted, he denied that he had done so. He said his sister had stolen the fruit cake.For this "crime", he was caned for the following reasons: For nearly getting his sister into trouble, for "arrowing" his sister and for lying.

It broke my heart to cane him but he needed a memorable negative reinforcement. It was explained to him clearly why he was caned. The lesson was seared in his mind.

Sometimes, I am tempted to use the preferred method of counselling and reasoning. Parents now prefer such methods as they find the traditional autocratic style of parenting archaic. I do agree as the autocratic parent uses reward and punishment to enforce behaviour. Children are given instructions and expectations, and are given little room to grow and develop. As a result, their spirits are broken or they rebel.But in their eagerness to be seen as not autocratic, they become accommodating parents. They allow their children to do their own thing. There is little respect for request, routine and rules.

Professor Harvey Bunke accurately describes this as the non-judgmental approach, in which standards of right and wrong are discarded and the individual is urged to determine his own pattern of behaviour; each decides for himself what is right and wrong. Prof Burke suggested that this form of humanistic psychology contributed to the decline of American society.

For example, an accommodating parent shared how she deals with her five-year-old. He likes to use the hammer and screwdriver to take things apart. His grandmother would remove these items for fear he would hurt himself. His mother would rather reason with the youngster about the pros and cons of playing with such tools.

Of course, the child continues with his behaviour. His grandmother and mother do not come across as figures of authority: One he sees as someone who constantly snatches his "toy" away, while the other is someone he only has to listen to while she talks and then he can go back to playing with his "toys" again.

In my family, we strongly believe that to love a child involves disciplining him when he is wrong. Disciplining requires the parents to know clearly what is unacceptable behaviour. In our household, this includes telling lies, being unkind and showing disrespect. Our children know that, once they cross the line, they will be caned.

Many parents find caning primitive and unenlightened. They would rather engage their children with reasoning. However, this method often degenerates into a negotiation session, where a child learns to test how far he can get away with unacceptable behaviour.

For example, another accommodating parent did not allow her son to drink cold drinks at night. She explained that it would keep him awake and he had a cough. He "reasoned" with her and manipulated her into giving him the drink.
Now, we could celebrate that we are producing the next generation of entrepreneurs or negotiators but I strongly feel that a five-year-old is too young to know what is right or wrong and thus should not be allowed to negotiate in the first place.

For me, a firm "no" would suffice and our children would not even entertain the thought of challenging us. Only when their concepts of right and wrong have been developed and established would we engage in reasoning, discussion and negotiation. An indication of when a child is ready is when he can show mastery of his actions and is willing to change his demands in the light of reasoning.

Authoritative parenting differs from accommodating parenting. The critical difference is that the former encourages children to be independent but still places limits and controls on their actions. But whether our parenting style is autocratic, accommodating or authoritative, our children still need to know what is wrong.

We cannot just make empty threats. The minute a child crosses the line, negative reinforcement must be swift. It is up to each parent to decide what that negative reinforcement would be.

This was first printed on 3rd Dec 2011

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