Several parenting articles have been circulating, hailed by many as stellar parenting advice. The articles encourage tough love — putting the smack down on our kids to teach responsibility and manners. If they forget their lunch or homework, don’t take it to them. One mom, annoyed that her kids failed to thank her or the woman behind the counter at the ice cream shop, ripped their half-eaten ice cream from their hands and threw it in the trash.
I’m sure these kids learn their lessons. If I went hungry a couple times, I’d make sure my lunch was in my backpack. If my mom threw my ice cream away, well, I’d start thanking anyone and everyone, right on down to a “Thank you, sir,” to the trash can where I threw my napkins after devouring my treat.
However effective, though, these approaches don’t sit well with me. They make the assumption that kids only learn through pain. These methods ignore that with every act of discipline, we’re teaching not one, but two lessons. We first teach the lesson at hand, such as, make sure you mind your manners. But the second lesson, the one that is forgotten, is the lesson of how to get your way. After all, as parents, each act of discipline is an act of getting our way. We want our children to exhibit certain behaviors, this is how we get those behaviors in place.
I once saw a child being berated by his mom for being disrespectful. I don’t know what the child did, but the mom loudly reprimanded him, and he sulked away behind her, obviously embarrassed in front of his peers. The mom clearly set her expectations, and I’m sure that child tries to adhere to those expectations to avoid another embarrassing scene.
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But what was lesson number two for him? To cause a scene when he doesn’t like how others are acting? To humiliate his future wife, his future kids, his future employees, in order to teach lessons?
I guiltlessly take my kids things they forgot. Backpacks, lunches, iPads and Macbooks. If I have the ability to help them out, I’ll do so. I’ll mention that they’re lucky I was able to bring it, and suggest they come up with a way to remember in the future. Guess what: They’re pretty responsible. For the most part, they get it right. They occasionally fall short, but don’t we all?
I’d hate to think that one day they’d grow up to have only learned tough love techniques. To believe that the only way someone will learn is by suffering.
I’ve found that whispering a reprimand in my child’s ear not only communicates my message, but my kids seem immediately cognizant that I respected them enough to not embarrass them publicly.
I have to wonder why the woman chose to throw the ice cream away rather than pointing out to her kids that someone had made those treats for them, and that was a real live person with feelings.
They had the opportunity to improve that woman’s day with gracious appreciation for her service. She could have taught them that we constantly make marks on those around us, even those we only encounter briefly over an ice cream counter. Instead, she taught them to automatically say sorry, and as her second lesson, she modeled entitled, childish, hurtful behavior, ironically in the name of reprimanding her kids for acting entitled.
We’re raising spouses, bosses, future adults, who will one day be in positions of authority. Do we want them to bulldoze others with that authority, or do we want them to provide respectful guidance as their first measure?
There’s a place for tough love, rigid rules and significant consequences, but at least in our family, we’ll use those sparingly, because second lessons count as much as first.
Reach Overland Park mom Emily Parnell at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter:@emilyJparnell.