I was shocked to hear from a parent that a recent email had been circulated condoning smacking young children.
My Danish friends tell me they would never hit their children. Hitting children has been banned there for decades and it is not the only country. However when I ask what many parents do instead, they tell me they often yell.
Without effective parenting strategies yelling easily becomes the alternative. Hitting and yelling are not strategies for a peaceful world. They do not build respect and children either respond with fear or rebellion.
Hitting and yelling are abusive and bullying. Yet it is with good intentions that many parents use these strategies to try to train their child’s positive behaviors.
If you worked in an environment where your boss bullied you to train you, I suspect your disrespect would eventually lead you not to stay. Like your children, you would either choose to fight (answer back, undermine, tell lies, manipulate, gossip, displace your upset by bossing others around, build up your defenses by acting tough like you don’t care) or flight (ignore, give up on yourself, feel incompetent, lose performance ability because of fear, or become a follower).
The more physical punishment and verbal abuse used in the household the more that children learn that force is the way to get what they want from others (siblings, friends, playground, and eventually work life, relationships, and their own children).
Parents I speak with do not feel good administering physical punishments but do not know alternatives. So what are the alternatives and what should you do?
Decide that a peaceful world starts with a peaceful you and peaceful family. Prioritize using peaceful, effective and assertive communication methods for the immediate and long -term benefits for your children. This does not mean being permissive.
Transfer the effective communication skills you use in the workplace to family life, like listening, assertive communication, and win-win skills. Emotional intelligence is as important if not more so than IQ.
Reexamine your expectations. Expecting perfection of your children and your parenting can lead to your feeling out of control if your measurements fall short. Apologize if you ‘lose it’ and start again.
Spend joyful time both one-on-one and as a family. Positive behavior and respectful communication happens in children and families when there is both quality and quantity time.
Listen to your children and acknowledge their feelings when they have problems or are upset. They will be more likely to listen to you when you have a problem with their behavior. Children build up defensive coping strategies like resistance, whining, manipulating when they don’t feel heard or respected. If you want them to change you have to change.
When you find your child’s behavior unacceptable be assertive like you would with a friend or colleague: say how you feel, explain the behavior that upsets you in a non-blameful way and the effect this has on you. This is called an I-message. No need to plead or be apologetic. State your needs with the energy of assertiveness.
Recently a parent got this confused and wrote to me to say, “My parents tell me that this active listening approach is all useless. My kids show no respect for me as they don’t listen to me. My dad was like, you need to show authority. So, I have started to smack both kids on the bottom and on the legs due to the pressure from my parents.”
Her father is right, providing he means authority that is assertive not aggressive. Effective teachers learn to manage classrooms of children by being assertive.
Use the energy of assertiveness – it is confident, secure, relaxed yet firm. Children feel secure around this energy. The energy of aggression is angry, out of control, forceful, uptight. Children learn to defend themselves.
Authority comes from mutual respect. If you are constantly finding fault and being critical no amount of listening will build respect. Give positive feedback for what you love about your child.
With little children show them what they can do. If you don’t want them jumping on the lounge, show them where they can jump. Little children are still learning about what is acceptable and unacceptable and you can acknowledge their need and guide them respectfully.
When there are conflicts think of them as useful ways to role model peaceful, effective win-win communication. Invest your time in studying and applying effective parenting strategies. It will pay off personally, in your family, your relationships and work place. The course I highly recommend is Dr. Thomas Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training. Dr. Gordon was nominated three times for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work throughout the world. Learn more here.
All I am saying, in the words of John Lennon, is “Give peace a chance.”
Kathryn Tonges is a Beijing-based PET parenting expert. To find out more, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.