I recently observed a woman spend half an hour forcing her daughter to take a “time out” for misbehaving. The daughter would not cooperate. She got up, tore up things, kicked over her chair, tried to resume playing, threw fits and tried to hit the Mom (not violent hitting, just typical little kid “I don’t like you” kind of hand slapping).
The mother just kept putting her back on the chair over and over, refusing to give up. She put her back on the chair 20-30 times. I’ll give her a tidbit of credit for that… it puts her well ahead of a lot of parents who simply would have given in or deceived themselves into thinking a punishment had occurred by the act of trying to make them sit. “That’ll teach you! Throw another fit and I’ll attempt to make you sit here again!”
However, all the Mom really did was out last the child. The little girl learned nothing intrinsic to her character development, and her level of personal discipline and obedience was not increased at all. She finally complied out of compromise, knowing that she could not continue on with what she wanted until she “gave in” to her five minute time out.
This may work temporarily with younger children but will fail miserably down the road with adolescents and teens who are more sophisticated and physically capable. While this type of technique is better than NOTHING and better than giving in to a child completely, it’s only slightly better and in the long run may be more destructive because it allows the parent some artificial satisfaction but avoids teaching the child anything substantive about obedience or discipline.
(Note: when I teach about parenting, I speak in broad, TYPICAL, generalities unless otherwise stated. I always get blasted by those who believe they are the EXCEPTION to what I’m saying. I’m just stating an opinion from my experience and observation of 45 years and 7 kids. If you are the exception or disagree with me, that’s cool. You don’t answer to me for your parenting… just take it for what it’s worth).
Parenting That Isn’t Parenting
Here’s my point: in the decades-long ongoing effort to demonize and avoid the “s-word” at all cost, the new fad for “effective parenting” is REDIRECTION and DISTRACTION. Both of those techniques have their place in parenting when used properly in conjunction with other discipline including spanking (gasp! did he really say ‘spanking’?????) but when relied upon solely are most often an exercise in futility.
For example, imagine your kids are bickering, demanding, fit-throwing brats at the supermarket (a sad reality for many parents) UNTIL you make up some game where they get to pick out the food and put it in the basket. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Well behaved kids at last!
Nope, mission unaccomplished… all you are doing is distracting them. You aren’t instilling obedience, respect and self control. The distraction only works until the kids get bored of it and it’s not fun anymore. Then you have to think up another even more distracting distraction. The bar is continually raised when we parent by distraction.
Distraction (when used as primary technique) caters to their self-centeredness. It’s round and round and round and round searching for the next distraction that will 1) keep your kids from acting like heathens (and embarrassing you) and 2) let’s you avoid the real work, the hard work, of actually molding their character and instilling self control.
Redirection falls into the same category… it can be useful at times but when used a primary parenting objective avoids actually addressing/correcting the problem and cultivating genuine maturity. Little Johnny throws a fit so we find him an activity he enjoys. We feel like such good parents because Little Johnny is no longer screeching and wailing. Look at how well behaved Little Monster, er, Little Johnny is when he is getting his way! Why, even we adults are well behaved when we get our way! In reality, we have fed into Little Johnny’s selfish worldview where he always needs to feel good and his way (even if we have manipulated him into believing he is getting his way).
Or, Darling Susie is being selfish to the other children and we step in and find something else she wants even more so that Darling Susie will now “share” what she has. Wrong answer… Darling Susie’s selfishness and narcissism has simply been reinforced but at least we don’t look like bad parents by escorting little Darling Susie to the woodshed and applying a meaningful consequence (that’s code for “spanking” but I have to be really careful to avoid actually saying it).
Parenting That Helps Parents But Not Kids
Folks, parenting that does not address the root causes of selfishness, disobedience, defiance, rebelliousness and sin is parenting that only helps THE PARENTS, not the child. Redirecting the temper tantrum or distracting the selfishness may make life better for YOU, Mom and Dad, but it is doing nothing towards cultivating character, selflessness, obedience and self-control in your children.
Disclaimer: Every time I mention spanking I have to toss in all the fine print and caveats or the whole response will come from defensive readers who claim to be the exception. Am I saying that spanking is the magic key to all parenting? No, but it is pretty magical when done properly, consistently, patiently and lovingly. As a general rule, the younger the child (starting when they are old enough to defy you and blatantly disobey), the more effective spanking is when appropriately administered. The only reason spanking became a topic of this post is because it is the obvious alternative to this modern parenting fad of “redirecting” and “distraction”.
What About Those Other Parenting Techniques?
Timeouts are good when used the right way for the right reasons. Example: “Johnny, if I see you not sharing again with your sister, you’re going to get a 20 minute time out.” Consequence declared… an appropriate punishment. If 20 minutes doesn’t do it maybe 30 minutes or an hour will. The point is that the consequence is KNOWN to the child. Now, if Little Johnny doesn’t want to do his time, throws a fit on the way to time-out or gives you a good mouthing off because of it, then timeout alone is no longer appropriate.
Redirection is good when used appropriately and not avoiding addressing the real issues of the heart. Example, at the end of a long day of traveling: “Johnny, I know you are tired because we’ve been in the car all day but you are still not allowed to be mean and grouchy to the rest of us. C’mon, I’ll read you a story for bedtime but if you say something mean again, you’re going to get a spanking.” This is a compassionate response that takes into account a child’s age appropriate emotions after a hard day while also addressing the need to incrementally instill self control and maturity as they grow.
Distraction is useful as long as character failures are not ignored. Example, when Johnny has been sick with a cold and you know you have to go sit in the Doctor’s office: “Johnny, listen I know you don’t feel good but you still are not allowed to throw fits and whine. Let’s get some coloring books and your favorite game packed up so that we will have something to do at the doctor’s office.” This type of compassionate response recognizes that sick kids aren’t mature enough to “tough it out” all the time without lapses in behavior, and anticipates a difficult time which can be helped by distraction. But it does NOT ignore the need to teach them “regardless of how you feel, you still have to rise to a certain level of good behavior”.
Notice the pattern? Compassion for the child’s situation and needs combined with INTOLERANCE for misbehavior, defiance, selfishness and disobedience. I’ve used “spanking” and “intolerance” in the same blog post proving that I’m some throwback to the Dark Ages.
What are your questions about parenting? I’ll fire up the oil lamps in the dungeon and if I have time between Crusades, I’ll answer your inquiries and comments.