1 Feb 2004

Discipline, too harsh or too lenient?

Submitted by theshovel
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Hello Rob!

How do you know when a child can understand discipline, and can understand what kinds of discipline? I can tell when he (my 9-month old) is actively rebellious (touching something I said no to, for instance)...but I have trouble judging things like pitching a fit (crying, then screaming louder when you walk away) when my wife or I sets him on the floor. Have I explained my question well enough? I don't want to mess up my kid, either by being too harsh or too lenient...and I'd like your thoughts. Rob

I think it is safe to say that young children understand basic principles far more than we suspect they can, though at the same time have no idea whatsoever regarding many of the technicalities we think they should. I have also come to realize that one child's reactions may look the same as another's, and yet mean different things (as well as looking different, and yet meaning the same).

But this is no cause for either resignation or confusion but only a stimulation to recognize that discipline is an ongoing flexible training that is based upon a fixed relationship. Simply stated, your child will come to count upon the fact that even though you might not always read every situation correctly (at least from his point of view), nor dispense said discipline fairly (once again, a very relative judgment) you are nonetheless committed to him as a father.

It's not a surprise that your child would scream and get louder when you walk away after setting him on the floor. As long as you are sure that your child is not injured you will eventually come to accept the fact that he will scream in hopes of keeping you entirely focused upon him at every single moment. He will get used to the fact that mom and dad cannot possibly be expected to give him physical attention the whole time he is awake.

Just remember that your child's well-being includes not only providing the basic necessities of life (once again, an often relative concept) but also aiding him in his development as he slowly learns - sometimes, impossibly so - to live in independence from you. Also remember that too harsh and too lenient are very relative terms. For a child will claim that ANY discipline (even having to sit in a chair for 5 minutes) is unbearable. On the other hand, a parent might assume that discipline must be compared to what he or she thinks is harsh instead of recognizing how effective even lenient measures can be.

Through it all, know the love of your Father, and then be prepared to shift many things around in your quest to express your love toward him in those very real and often undesirable confrontations. If he learns how to pull the wool over your eyes from time to time ... so what? It's going to happen. You're all in it for the long run, and you have much to learn from each other. Learning to recognize the many games we've established in relationships is far more important than not allowing any to sneak by us.

Jim Minker

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