How not to discipline
A friend, angry with her child for doing something that children do, asked the all-too-familiar rhetorical questions, "Are you an idiot? What is wrong with you? Are you stupid or something?" She then followed with threats to kick the child's butt so the child could get some sense. I wondered how an otherwise loving and caring person could be so callous as to have no empathy for her own child.
When I thought the abuse could not get any worse, my friend asked me, "Do you want her?" I knew my friend would not really give away the child, but I also knew the child was internalising that when she did something bad, she was not worthy of love. Before I left, I looked at the precious child and saw the pain and humiliation, and I also saw a sponge absorbing all the toxicity that her parent was hurling at her.
We all know adults with low self-esteem, people who are self-deprecating, always talking about how stupid they are and how they can't do anything right. We know the women who go from one abusive relationship to another, trying to fix the abusive relationships that they had with her fathers. We know the men who inflict pain before they get hurt because someone who should have given them unconditional acceptance called them names and hurled profanity when they made childish mistakes. Then there are those who have a difficult time committing because they were abandoned emotionally, if not physically.
These adults did not just wake up one day fully grown, with dysfunctional coping skills. Their maladjusted behaviour comes from years of programming — from what others have told them. That is why bullying is so insidious. Messages are being received and internalised that shape the way we think about ourselves. We cannot always protect our children from negative messages at school or in the media, but we can protect them from our own bullying.
Parenting is hard. At least good parenting is hard. It is easier to rant and rave and call our children insulting names than it is to wait for the anger to pass and mete out rational, meaningful discipline that meets the needs of that particular child. What is still bothering me, days later, is that my friend's parenting style is not unique. It may even be the norm in Jamaica. Go to any setting where you have parents and children, and just listen...
Is it possible to raise respectful, disciplined children, whose self-esteem is still intact? Yes, it is. But one method of disciplining is not appropriate for all. So, here are some general principles:
1. Be authoritative (demanding and responsive), not authoritarian (demanding but not responsive).
2. Be consistent.
3. Discipline in private.
4. Do not discipline while you are angry.
5. Focus displeasure on the behaviour, not the child. Show that your love is unconditional.
6. Commend your child for doing something good.
7. Spend time with your children.
8. Model what you want to see in your children.
9. Be flexible and willing to adjust your parenting style.
10. When you mess up (as we all do), be willing to apologise to your child. That's a tough one!
D Maxine Jordan, MA, is the mother of two adult children and a clinical mental health counsellor in private practice in Mandeville. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.