Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Responsible Child

My son’s preschool teacher gave me a handout today called, “A Responsible Child.” I’m assuming she gave one to everybody, but perhaps she’s found this blog and knows what a terrible mother I am. The handout is an excerpt from the book, RAISING A RESPONSIBLE CHILD by Dr. Don Dinkmeyer and Dr. Gary D. McKay. And I’m really excited because I hadn’t heard of this particular book. Here are some of its pearls of wisdom:

1. “Ask – Don’t demand.” Right… Because I’m just his mother and have no right to demand any sort of standard of behavior. Now I do ask sometimes and I always demand politely (the first time anyway), but when that doesn’t work (and often it doesn’t), am I supposed to beg or just give up and let him do what he wants? The handout doesn't specify.

2. “Logical consequences express the reality of the social order, not of the person; punishment expresses the power of personal authority.” And this is bad because…? Logical consequences certainly have their place, but learning about the power of arbitrary personal authority does also. I mean if I get pulled over by a policeman, even if he’s a jerk it behooves me to at least pretend to respect his authority, no? Why would I not want my kids to learn to make these distinctions?

3. “Logical consequences imply no element of moral judgment; punishment often does.” God forbid a kid these days learn that some things are just unacceptable. If you grow up to be a bank robber, do we say, “love the bank robber, hate the bank robbery”? No. We make a moral judgment about that person based on their behavior. Why don’t we want our kids to understand that to be successful in our culture there are certain things we just don’t do? If my kid pees in the neighbors’ yard, are the neighbors not going to assume some really nasty things about him and our family? Of course they are. Our actions cause people to judge us and we should choose actions that are consistent with how we’d like to be thought of by others. Is that really such a damaging lesson?

Now, I know I sound like quite the authoritarian, but in reality, I’m always worried about how lax I am with my kids’ behavior and how that will or won’t serve them well in life. But there are some places where a line just has to be drawn. For example, yesterday my 4-year-old, J, came at me as if he was going to hit me and I warned him before he got there that it was not a “good idea” to hit me and he’d “be sorry” if he did it. He did it anyway (my kids really fear me). I was a "really good mom" and placed him matter-of-factly in time out for four minutes (one minute for each year of his life -thanks Super Nanny). At the end, I made him say, “We never hit Mama,” and that he was sorry. I picked him up to give him a hug and he kicked me. So we repeated the above process. This time he got up and went to do the thing that I wouldn’t let him do earlier, which had led to the hitting to begin with. And I reminded him that, no, he wasn’t doing that. And he hit me. So I calmly said, “That’s enough.” And I got out a wooden spoon and whapped his bottom with it once. Then I said, “We do not hit Mama, do you understand that now?” And he finally said (sobbing), “Yes!” I hugged him and told him I loved him and the rest of the day went off without a hitch.

Now I know I sound like a terrible control freak head case, right? Oh well. My husband is quite a bit bigger than me and I’m guessing that both of my boys are going to be bigger than me well before they leave home. I think, “We don’t hit Mama” is a good thing to have ingrained upon their psyches before they hit the rebellious teenage years. I really don’t want to have to go on the Jerry Springer show because I’m being abused by my teenagers. When I was a teenager I did plenty of bad things, but I did have a base of respect for my mother. I don’t remember a time of “learning” to respect her, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t just choose to do so out of the goodness of my heart at fifteen years old. Kids need to learn that Mama’s authority (however arbitrary modern experts deem it to be) means something well before they get to the age where Mama can’t physically impose it on them anymore.

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