Monday, February 13, 2006

I lack, therefore I smack

In our revered local paper, The Sunday Mail, Veronica Williams, a guest columnist, shared her views with us on smacking children.

As a mother of three, she believes that punishing children by smacking ‘ not only humiliating for a child (as is yelling at them or belittling them – all of which lower their self esteem) but it also shows a lack of respect for the child and a lack of imagination or effort on behalf of the caregiver.’

She then offers her ‘creative and less harmful’ method of ‘teaching children acceptable behaviour’. Can you guess what it is? Yes, I’m nodding exaggeratedly here whilst typing – it’s The Corner. She told the naughty child to face the corner and not turn around. The next step involves leaving it to the child to ‘decide when they would leave the corner but… they were only allowed to do so when they had thought about what they had done wrong.’

Isn’t that nice and mature and calm of her? If I had read her article during my carefree childless years, I would have nodded in agreement and smugly thought “Oh yes indeed, I will definitely keep my voice at a low level and always reason with my child instead of subjecting it to any evil smacking.’

Fast forward the circle of life a few years and inevitably what sounded good in the printed word is almost impossible to achieve in reality: i.e. the confines of your living room after the two year has inserted a third fish finger into the DVD loader. Consciously trying to muster up a firm-but-fair expression on my face and some clear explanations – “No sweetie, put your hammer down, there’s a good girl, otherwise it will hurt the doggie”, or “No Sapphire, we wear our socks, we don’t put them down the toilet…..” was tried out twice.

When Sapphire ignored my requests and continued to do these activities, my voice started to lose its caring and loving tone and instead become more shrill and considerably louder. “NO Sapphire! That hurts the doggie! No no no no, don’t throw the hammer into the toilet as well! IT ISN’T FUNNY, IT’S VERY NAUGHTY!” Sadly, it was very soon realised that measured explanations of the consequences of her bad behaviour was not going to work. Maybe The Corner would. “OK, that’s it. I am not happy with your behaviour. I want you to stand over in the corner for some time out to think.”

Fifteen minutes later, I found myself sweaty, disheveled and up and out of the couch more often than a Mexican wave. At two and a half, Sapphire didn’t want to stand in the corner, didn’t know how to keep still and didn’t really know why she was there in the first place. Just as I was about to give it up and just tell her that I was talking away Elmo – her utterly favourite toy – she dashed out, gave me a fair old whack across the shins with her hammer and laughed.

Before my eyes completely fogged over in bright red anger, I made the decision. Note, it was before I got too angry to think straight. I grabbed her left hand and gave it a short slap, saying “No.” Oh all right, I yelled out “NOOOOOO!” as loudly as I could and made sure that she got a eyeful of my furious face. She rubbed her hand in shock and indignation and burst into tears. Meanwhile, I counted to ten and took a couple of deep breaths, trying to harden my heart against her surprised sobs. Moments later found that she didn’t resist me when I picked her up and took her over to the couch for a cuddle.

“I know that you’re still only very young and don’t understand everything, but when Mummy – or Daddy – tell you not to do something, you must do what we say. We tell you ‘no’ sometimes so that you will grow up to be a good person and also so that you’ll be safe. Do you understand that, sweetheart?”
”Milk, mum, milk please.”
“Can you be a good girl for Mummy and do what she tells you?”
“Milk mum? Please Mum? Where Elmo?”
“Are you being a good girl now?””Please Mum, milk? Please Elmo?”
“That's good enough.”

It felt all right to me. I hadn’t lashed out due to lack of control and she didn’t appear to be humiliated, frightened of me or be sporting a severe dent in her self-esteem. The warm little head I was kissing whilst my arms encircled her belonged to a happy, active and intelligent toddler who had tested the boundaries, tried my patience and discovered that her Mummy was a human who also got cross and fed up.

I began to suspect that I might not be the only one who used "If you keep that up, I'll give you a smack" as their last resort. People never discussed it but when I raised it, most parents admitted that they did smack their children when every other avenue had been tried. It felt like being a member of a secret society – one that never held meetings or advertised its existence, but resulted in a feeling of relief and responses like, “Oh, so you’re not superhuman after all – what a relief, I thought it was just me who was being a terrible parent.”

On the other hand, I had also witnessed other parents trying the kind voice/explanations/corner routine and winced at their (mostly) dismal failures. If a child was under four, they had no idea why they were forced to stand in the corner and if they were older, they simply saw it as a joke. What was horrifyingly obvious was that, despite the soft tones, kids totally ignored their parents and kept on with the noxious activity until their parents were angry enough to a) yell very loudly; b) threaten to take something away; and, finally, c) give them a ‘Short sharp trip to botty land.’ (Thanks, BlackAdder II).

Think about your own upbringing. A smack on the butt would have been fairly commonplace for most of us, yet we’d also, in our reminiscences, realise that we deserved it. I clearly recall my mother, normally so laidback, chasing my little brother around and around the house, with a wooden spoon in her hand. The little treasure had decided to break the glass front door in with Dad’s hammer. Dad yelled at my older brother when he hit the cricket ball right through the bedroom window and there was a distinct red hand-mark on my leg at bath time one night after being caught smashing bottles in the backyard incinerator.

Did it make us three siblings hate our parents? No, of course not. They were extremely rare occasions and made us realise the seriousness of our naughtiness – none of us ever did those things again. It also made us see our parents as real people with feelings, reactions and emotions – not some automatons that could easily be ignored or disrespected.

Finally, Ms William’s closing paragraph states that ‘It’s time the generational cycle of physical punishment was replaced with a more caring and imaginative one.’ Again, this would have sounded absolutely correct in my childless days, but now it just irritates me to the point of anger. Reasonable parents who have tried several times to get their child to stop an unwanted behaviour, are, like most humans, going to become very angry and seek a measure that will shock their children into stopping that behaviour and not doing it again. Reasonable parents will give their child enough chances and verbal warnings to stop their bad behaviour before deciding to smack them on the hand or bottom. Imagination has nothing to do with it unless you want to ask them to stop it for the tenth time using new words and phrases. Standing in a corner ‘aint it unless you are happy for a tantrum and some boogers wiped on your wall.

Perhaps the endlessly repeated requests to stop said in nice voices and The Corner strategy would work if you were deaf, dumb, blind and on enough Lithium to be looking down on cloud nine. If so, you’re not fit to be a parent.


Neutron said...

Yes, indeedy - brave post in these 'enlightened' times! I had all kinds of great ideas on how to bring up kids before I had any! Now I have 4 I have come to believe that there is a very good biological reason for getting to the point where you are really shows the kids where the border is, they know you are not faking and they take note. I never smacked my kids but I did get very angry (I am that sort of person who is slow to anger but when I finally do it's not pleasant!). Even when they are little they can understand anger!

Thomases said...

There's something to be said for 'spare the rod and spoil the child'. I did smack my children but only occasionally - sufficiently to get the point across. And only when they were quite young, as they grew older they understood when I was upset or angry with them - smacking was no longer needed. Today I have grown daughters who love their parents, hug us, kiss us, tell us they love us, and share their lives with us, even though they're now adults. I guess they too will go through this struggle when they become parents.

Riss said...

Sounds like the author of that article needs a good smack. To get her brain working again.