When children are very young, the role of teacher can be most frustrating. Getting a child to sit still long enough for a reasoned lecture or lesson is almost impossible—especially when the child is only newly acquainted with language and the subject of the lesson involves the word “no”! Spanking gets your child's attention—but only for about two seconds. Your earliest task as a parent is to decide upon, and enforce, the limits your child needs in order to live well and safely.
The Necessity of Limits
The roles of mother and child can be compared to those of teacher and disciple. Your job as a mom is to guide your child toward finding a true sense of self. You create a secure sense of structure for your child by educating him or her about your own beliefs and values, but it is a wise parent who also teaches children to think on their own. This has to be done in stages, of course. You do not want an overly empowered little tyrant running your household.
And that, of course, is the challenge facing any parent, and especially moms: You want to maintain authority in your home while giving your child the knowledge and self-confidence to ultimately make wise decisions on his or her own behalf.
Teaching Right from Wrong
One of the things we are entrusted to teach our children is the difference between right and wrong. Some people believe a strong religious foundation will do this for you. For many people religion is the key to moral education. In addition to whatever structure you may provide through religion, I believe you teach right from wrong through example.
A Couple of Cautionary Tales
A generation ago, parents relied on physical punishment to maintain discipline in their children. Today we understand that this approach is not particularly effective. It doesn't provide the child with any understanding of why his behavior is wrong—all it teaches him is not to get caught. And it can seriously backfire. My mom learned both these lessons the hard way.
There's a difference between giving your child freedom and allowing irresponsible license. The first encourages creativity and self-expression; the second can turn your child into a real little terror.
Sometimes even the most anti-spanking mom is tempted to administer a little seat-of-the-pants justice. But it can be dangerous, especially for toddlers. It's too easy to miss your mark (the diaper-padded bottom), and even a seemingly light spank that lands in the wrong place can cause injury to your little one's kidneys.
My brother was a terrible hellion when we were little—a fact I used to my own nefarious advantage lots of times. It was easy for me to make sure my brother got the blame, since he was the one with the bad reputation. For example, when we'd go for a drive with my mom, my brother and I would sit in the back seat. A favorite amusement of mine was to give him a good smack and then scream, “Larry, stop hitting me.” Of course, my mother immediately assumed I was the innocent party, so she'd reach back to swat in Larry's general direction to make him stop hitting me.
One day, my mom took my brother and me to visit my Grandmother. There was never much kid stuff to do at Grandma's so we would spend a lot of time torturing each other. When our misbehavior finally got to be too much, Mom lost her patience and told my brother in no uncertain terms to behave himself. He answered back and ran off—something that simply wasn't tolerated in those days. So Mom had to chase him, because disrespect could not go unpunished. Unfortunately, when she swatted at his retreating hind end, she missed her mark and slammed her hand into a plaster wall, breaking one of her fingers. Definitely not the outcome she was going for.
It is good that the emphasis has shifted away from raising children to fear their parents. As a discipline tool, corporal punishment was most effective in ensuring the need for psychotherapists as children grew up trying to reconcile love and rejection. And by inflicting physical pain we undo all our efforts to teach our children self-control and confidence. Physical punishment breaks the spirit or sets the stage for rebellion later on.