Recently the topic of spanking and discipline has been on fire on my social media feeds. It seems an hour can't pass before there is another heated debate on the subject. I'm not going to delve into my feelings on spanking further than to say we are a non-spanking household but rather I want to focus on one fallacy that keeps being mentioned over and over and over again: if you don't spank or put your children in time out, you're not disciplining them.
That's not true. Neither are all of the comments being made about how if you practice gentle parenting and discipline then your children run your household or walk all over you. For me, discipline isn't a control issue. It's not about me expecting my child to perform to the manner in which I see fit, the manner in which I would like them to. It's not about me wanting them to do the things I want them to regardless of their own feelings on the matter. On the contrary, that is exactly what I want my children to never do: follow blindly what they're being told when it contradicts the way they feel in their heart. I like to think that my husband and I are setting up a clear line of respect that works both ways: Ethan respects us and he knows in his heart that we respect him. What greater comfort to give our children than the confidence and comfort in knowing that we, as parents, respect them as people?
Discipline means many things to many different people. When people think of gentle parenting and households that do not practice spanking or time out, they think of maniacal children running rampant, children who kick, bite and scream while destroying restaurants and the sanity and comfort of others while I sit on my hands and smile blankly. This is another misconception. We believe in raising Ethan to know the right way to treat himself, other people and the environment around him. When he was newly two, this was a little more of a challenge. Before he could speak, he wouldn't be able to fully express himself in ways other than through a tantrum and tears. I never believed it was my job to put him in solitary confinement but instead to embrace him, let him know that I love him and am here to work through the way he is feeling with him. The older he got, the more he was able to rationalize with displaying his emotions in better ways. At almost three, there are times when he wants to stay home and play but we need to run to the grocery store and this just causes him to be frustrated, to cry and pout and yell his point that he does not want to go. It is hard, as an adult, to not grab him by the arms and shove him into the car while cursing under my breath, but that solves nothing. Sometimes I have to take an extra five or ten minutes to sit him on my lap and talk about the way he's feeling and why he's frustrated. If he's busy playing with a yellow car, we compromise that the yellow car can come. If he wants to work on a painting, I make the promise that as soon as we get home, we can make that painting and show it to daddy. I make it a priority to never be too busy, too rushed, too distracted to not give these talks priority during a time of stress. Even when we're running late to swim class, I want Ethan to know there is always time for his feelings and always time to talk them over. At this age, when he's truly flustered and upset, my asking "would you like to have a talk about the way you're feeling?" is enough to get him to calm down and nod in agreement. Sometimes, he even asks for the talk himself. I think this level of communication has come from implementing this form of discipline for so long and it being something that Ethan has grown accustomed to.
Discipline, to me, is teaching the child a lesson. Not in a spiteful way, but in a way that helps them better understand themselves and the world around them. It teaches them ways to better express their feelings. Discipline, to me, doesn't mean punishment. I don't believe children are bad. Growing up, my mom never let anyone use the word bad to describe a child. "Children aren't bad," she would say. That always stuck with me and I always found it to be true. Children can be misguided, confused and not sure how to properly express themselves other than through negative behavior, but I don't believe that punishment does much other than make them believe they are bad. Children don't throw tantrums to be bad or to make us parents angry. They do it because it's all they know how to do when they are having trouble understanding themselves. I believe that my job as a parent is to help Ethan work through his hard times rather than punish him for having feelings that he isn't able to get a hold of. When Ethan is having a fit, it's not always the prettier, quieter way to sit with him and talk it out, especially when he's having trouble calming himself down (and especially when this is in public), but I don't believe that putting him in a room or corner alone is helping to teach him that I value his opinions, thoughts and emotions and want to help him learn to express them better.
I'm not here to debate whether or not corporal punishment or punishment-based discipline works or doesn't work for you or your family. I'm simply here to clear up the muck I've been trudging through online accusing parents who don't believe in these (antiquated, in my opinion) forms of discipline to be ruining the future generations of America. On the contrary, my goal as a parent is to raise compassionate, confident, strong children. When I first met my husband as a teenager, he lacked the ability to have a disagreement. Instead of knowing how to talk about his feelings, he would run away. It took close to a decade to be able to chisel away at all of that and it's been a huge focus of mine as a parent. I want Ethan to be able to maintain successful adult relationships and have the ability to discuss his feelings, even in sticky situations. I want him to be able to be confident and strong in his beliefs. I want him to be the kind of man who knows that men have feelings and emotions. I want him to appreciate nature and be aware of how to treat those around him with kindness and compassion, a trait that so many seem to lack these days. I want him to expect to be respected in the often callous real world and never settle for disrespect. And, on that note, I want him to know how to respect others. That is the kind of discipline I'm raising my child with. We will continue to discipline him as parents who teach by example and embrace his mistakes and shortcomings because they always come with lessons on how to be remedied. I want him to always feel comfortable in sharing his feelings with me, something that doesn't mean I'm going let my child get away with everything and never tell him "no" as he is growing up like so many assume. Choosing not to spank or use time-out does not mean a child is being spoiled or not being disciplined. Discipline isn't a word that by definition has anything to do with punishment or reprimanding and that, for some reason, tends to be quite overlooked in society today.