In this day and age, many young parents struggle with the decision of whether they should or should not resort to physical punishment on their toddlers. As each child is different, you will probably realise that there is no cookie cutter method of disciplining your offsprings. Talking to one child might be sufficient, but for another, the old adage “spare the rod and spoil the child” might be a good fit. How does one enforce the latter method of disciplining effectively?
THE OLD DAYS
I am not sure about you, but my mum’s idea of discipline was to cane and cane furiously without explanation and with the intention to shame- she targeted my legs and arms every time. Whilst it did make me most fearful of making the same mistake again, it created a deep rooted resentment in me as a child. I recall how some of my classmates got caned as well, but would tell of how their parent then applied calamine lotion to their cane marks. No such luck for me. It was tough love all the way from my Mum. She wielded the cane over every issue big and small.
My Dad was the other extreme. He caned me once when I was in kindergarten and could never bear to lay a hand on me again. He would sit me down and explain to me. He didn’t have to yell or hit me to induce the deepest guilt in me for my wrongdoing. He showed me that he respected my feelings and I very much respected his. Yet, in a way, I took advantage of that softer approach at times.
SEEKING A BALANCE
When I became a parent, I realised that I did not want to discipline my kid like my mum, but being quite the cheeky little bugger myself (and I got away with too much with my Dad), I realised I did not want to be too much of a softie either. As I was initially a single mum, until my hubby entered the picture later on, I had to wear both hats. There was no good-cop-bad-cop for my kid. There was just one cop- Mummy.
WARN, EXPLAIN, AND ONLY WIELD CANE IF ALL ELSE FAILS
I sought a balance in my approach- I would give verbal warnings that were first done in a less stern manner initially. But when he persists, I would give a firm warning. I would then take away privileges from him (TV time, a favourite toy) should he continue. I resort only to wielding the cane when he is being outright stubborn & rude or if he attempts to tell lies.
I dont’t cane multiple times. One stroke is enough. Should you wish to use the cane, you must remember that, like Spiderman, “with power comes great responsibility”. You should not cane the child to vent your anger or to shame the child. That causes resentment. Always give verbal warnings and explanations first and unless the kid persists stubbornly, then follow through with the cane after fair warning. When you cane the child, you dont’t have to really whack too hard- hard enough to make a statement, but it should not be hard enough to leave a welt. After caning the child, give him or her time to cool down if she is upset. Then later, have a talk with your child and offer reassurance that when you punish him, it is not because you love him less but because you love him more.
“I did not want to cane you. Mummy never likes having to scold or cane you. I love you and I always will, but I do not love your behaviour or what you did just now. That wasn’t right because (list reason). Does the place I cane still hurt? Sorry if it does but I did warn you I would cane you if you continued doing that. Come, mummy apply some lotion for you and give you a big hug. Promise me that you will try not to do what you did again ok?”
The important thing to remember is to always follow through and be consistent. If you tell your toddler that you will take away his TV time if he continues to be rude, you must follow through. If not, the child will remember and assume that you are making empty threats. Ditto if you say you will cane him if he does or does not do something, you have to follow through. Discipline has to be consistent because when you waiver and send mixed signals, you are giving the wrong impression that it is sometimes more okay to behave the way he or she did on some days.
CAREFUL NOT TO GIVE YOUR KID THE CHANCE TO PLAY POLITICS
Should your spouse or another authority (grandparents) disagree with your choice of discipline for a particular situation, they should speak to you in private and never voice out that disagreement before the child.
My boy used to run to my Dad to claim I reprimanded him for no reason, and he would run to me to claim my Dad yelled at him for no reason. Kids like to find a “loophole”. It is important to communicating with the other caregiver (spouse, parents who are babysitting for you) and be on the same page on disciplining styles and responses. Had I sided with my son to confront my Dad, I would have given him the idea that he can play my Dad and me against each other in following encounters.
“YOU ANY HOW CANE ME!”
Sometimes when a kid is behaving wrongly and refuses to admit that he is behaving wrongly, he might make this accusation. Reinforce your message and hold your ground. For example, if my kid drew on the wall and got caned by me after initial fair warnings, this would be a sample speech. (Note that I have always spoken to my son as I would an adult, but clearly and with simple words, and I never talked down or baby talked to him.) -
“I did not cane you for no reason. You were being very naughty. I told you not to draw on the wall right? But did you listen to mummy? I said it 3 times but you continued right? Mummy will never cane you for no reason. You are the one who decides if you get caned. If you choose to do what you shouldn’t do after mummy warns you, you are asking to be disciplined. If you made the right decision and stopped drawing on the wall, I wouldn’t have caned you. So you decided to get caned. It was not my decision. I merely respected your choice.”
I emphasise always that he gets to choose if he gets scolded/caned/punished through the decisions he persists in making after I’ve warned him that a behaviour is not right. This helps him to stop and think before he does anything- will it lead to any consequences?
“I dont’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE!”
Although he was pretty much a sensible toddler, my firstborn could be really muleheaded at times. He would blow air through his nostrils, wail, and emotionally blackmail me with the lines, “I dont’t love you anymore.” At first hearing it really stung, and I could understand why after all these years my cries of “I dont’t want Mummy; I want Daddy!” whilst being caned as a kid still upset my mum. I realised that what my firstborn wanted was to see my reaction to the sentence and figure out how to use it to his advantage. Although, I was feeling a little sad that he said it, I replied, “It’s ok. Even if you say you dont’t love me, I still love you,” and went on doing my housework as per normal. Incredulous that his remark did not get the results he wanted, he repeated it again and I stood by my reply. He gave up after a while. He tried this tactic a few times over that year but realised that it was not going to get him his way for certain so he stopped. But the up side was that he also felt deeply reassured that mummy does love him a lot and took away that security of knowing maternal love can be unconditional.
THINGS TO AVOID SAYING TO THE CHILD
Never threaten your child with lines such as-
“If you dont’t listen to me, I dont’t want you anymore.” “I call the police to catch you !” “I sell you to the karang guni then you know!”
These lines cause a great deal of anxiety, insecurity and resentment in some kids because they do value your love for them. Over time, the threats will cause them to think that your love is conditional and that they are disposable.
GIVE THEM TIME TO COOL DOWN & ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR FEELINGS
Even though your kid is being naughty or throwing a tantrum, say your piece then give them space to cool down and think about what you’ve said. dont’t stand there and nag on like a machine gun. Tell your child to look for you once they have sort out their thoughts on the matter, and if they want to talk to explain themselves. (If you are the one who is angry, go to the bathroom and count to ten. When we are emotional, we tend to parent emotionally and might easily fly into a rage.)
Sometimes after that, they will try to give you their reason for doing what they did. Listen to them and dont’t be quick to judge. Let them finish explaining their side of the story. After that thank them for sharing and then explain your perspective to them so they understand why it is wrong to have done what they did.
Eg. If my son was at a play date and pushed a kid who pushes him. I might have scolded him not knowing what the other boy did at first and he could have felt angry about it. When he cools down, he might explain that the other kid pushed him and he was retaliating. I would have said,
“I understand that Ben pushed you and there is nothing wrong about feeling upset with him. I would have been angry too if I were you. I am sorry I scolded you before I understood what happened, but having said that, it is still not okay to push him back. Two wrongs do not make a right. You should have told his mummy or me. It is not right to hurt him back for hurting you.”
Reaffirm that it is okay for your child to feel angry or hurt, but reinforce that they should not act on those emotions by being verbally or physically abusive. If your child feels your words when you were upset with him were emotionally hurtful, apologise for hurting his feelings, but stand firm on your decision that he was still not wrong to behave in that certain way.