A new client introduced me to his daughter yesterday. Anna had been acting out at home, refusing to do assigned worksheets, not listening to her parents, and being as disrespectful as an adorable, gap-toothed eight-year-old child could be. “What can we do to get her to obey?” “How can we help her to be compliant?” “Why won’t she do what we tell her?”
After listening patiently for an hour to what went on in the home of this well-meaning, highly educated, successful young couple, I formulated an answer: “The first thing you need to do,” I began, “is to stop beating her with a belt.”
“It’s true, she is angelically well behaved at school” mom said. “The only time she is defiant and oppositional is at home.”
I pointed out, as gently as I could, that at school no one hits her with an accessory meant to hold up clothes, not terrorize children. Being hit may produce temporary compliance but it also instills fear. Kids who are hit learn to hit. Their feelings of helplessness and frustration are seldom resolved in a healthy way. The word most often associated with “spanking” is “abuse.”
If you, gentle reader, are sagaciously nodding your head, thinking “of course, we know better,” I commend you. But before you break your arm patting yourself on the back, let me ask if there are any tools in your parenting shed used to enforce compliance and obedience rather than cooperation and love. Do you ever model fear rather than respect? Is sarcasm the moral equivalent of smacking in your home?
Home A: Please pass the salt.
Home B: What the matter? Are the f***ing salt pickers on strike?
Garrison Keillor got it right when he talked about taking both Prozac and Viagra. "But if either one worked, I wouldn't need the other." Similarly, if your home is filled with love, connection, fun, and attunement, you won't worry about compliance in your home or wanting to smack your kids.
What are other covert forms of mild abuse? What about forcing a “non-mathy” child to keep taking math year after year? Don’t misunderstand. You know how much I love math. I enjoy math problems so much that I frequently spend my down time working on recreational math problems. I would rather work on a good math problem or logic puzzle than sit in a hot tub with Sofia Vergara. (Not that I am waiting by the phone for her call, mind you.) Email me and I’ll send you links to sites filled with problems of every level and description that will keep you entertained for decades. I wish everyone who is capable would take math and more math, work hard and enjoy.
But for the kid who is never going to “get” calculus, shouldn’t she be left alone to pursue her other abilities and passions at some point?
Sure, parents can force their kids to do stuff including calculus. With excessive force or sufficient incentives, compliance can be temporarily achieved and schedules maintained. But wouldn’t you rather have someone who respects, admires, and loves you help you with the dishes rather than a recalcitrant employee grudgingly agreeing to do another vacuous worksheet?
“Being there” for your kids doesn’t end when they are out of diapers and sleeping through the night in their own bed. Meeting the needs of your children continues right up until they pick out your nursing home.
And speaking of the time when the balance of decision making authority shifts, wouldn’t you rather that the person making the determination about whether or not to take you off life support is not someone whom you used to hit with a belt?