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A Fictional Story by Jamsco

(Written quite a long time ago)

A paradigm change for the better in my fathering technique has come about in the past few weeks. As I look back, it is the result of one pivotal moment of child discipline that took place with my oldest son three months ago. I remember it clearly.

I was watching my children (ages three to seven) playing in our backyard and they were having fun. But at one point, my oldest son, Richard, was angry because our other son, Tommy was not sharing a favorite toy with him. Richard happened to be holding a plastic bat and he gave Tommy a fairly sharp hit on the back with it. Tommy was not injured, but he started crying. As my wife consoled Tommy, I took Richard inside and began to give him a spanking. As I was doing so, I said “Richard, you should never hit other people.” It was then that I realized what I was doing. I was doing to him exactly what I was telling him not to do! As my hypocrisy became clear to me, I realized that it didn’t matter that he was using a bat out of anger and that I was using my hand only to discipline. The differences were inconsequential. I apologized to him and resolved to never spank my children again.

I thought my hypocritical fathering days were behind me. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

Thing went well for the next few weeks as we replaced spankings with timeouts as our chosen method of discipline. Timeouts were virtually as good a tool as spanking and the children were almost as well behaved as they had been. Admittedly, the fear of being alone for a few minutes was not as motivational as the fear of pain, and while in there, the child spent his time angry and brooding, but I felt at peace with my conscious, until another moment of truth changed this.

One evening I heard some yelling coming from the entryway of our home, and as I rounded the corner, I saw that Tommy (who is almost as big as Richard) had shut Richard in the coat closet. I could hear Richard yelling from inside to let him out. He was obviously upset.

I let him out and made sure he was okay and then brought Tommy up to his room. I told him that he needed to lay on his bed for ten minutes and think about what he had done. And then I . . . I left him there. He was not in there five minutes before I heard him yelling that he wanted to get out. He sounded as upset as Richard had been just a few minutes earlier.

I realized that I was doing it again. In forcing Tommy to be by himself in a small space for a longer time than he wanted to be, I was doing to Tommy practically the same thing that I was telling him not to do to Richard. And it might be nearly as damaging to him as being trapped in a small closet. Again I resolved to change. We decided that we would use words and conversations as our method of discipline.

Again, the children were soon not as well behaved as before since now they had no real motivation to obey at all (besides the knowledge of our disapproval), but again I was at least practicing what I preached.

Or so I thought.

One day I was outside working in the garage and I heard our youngest daughter, Susie saying some very unkind things in anger to a neighbor friend of hers (You might see where this is going.) After apologizing for her to her friend, I took her inside and began to chastise her for the negative things she had said to her friend. But I realized that in doing so, I was verbalizing bad things about her and her behavior. I could see that in doing so, I was causing her to be ashamed of herself. I feared that in my actions might be damaging her self-esteem. I realized that again I was doing what I was telling my child not to and resolved from then on only to point out the positive things that the children did.

Since then, other things have come to mind. I was cutting some roast beef two weeks ago and Susie asked if she could try it. I was about to tell her that it was too dangerous for her to do so, but again realized that I wasn’t letting her do something that I was doing right in front of her. We gave the knives to friends of ours with older children.

And on the way home from a soccer game last week, Tommy asked if he could drive . . .

So now our children are extremely poorly behaved to the extent that no one wants to be around our family, we have to have all of our food sent to us (it turns out that many factors of cooking are too dangerous for young children), we have to bike everywhere we go, and I live in fear of noticing other things that I don’t let our children do, but at least I am not a hypocritical father. My conscious is clear.

<In case, the subtle point that I tried to make in this story is not clear enough, let me put it simply:

A kid angrily hitting another is to spanking, as a kid trapping another in a closet is to time-outs

Or (even more simply)

There is no hypocrisy in spanking a child as punishment for hitting another.

Also, see Rule Number 1 here. >

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February 2007