Sparing The Rod

A good friend of mine was recently enjoying the visit of his son and his son’s wife and their 3 year-old son. My friend’s wife had undergone surgery a few weeks before and was still tender, but she was enjoying the visit very much when her grandson decided to punch her in the stomach — thinking it great fun. My friend grabbed his grandson and held him by the arms and sternly told him that hitting people is wrong. The boy’s mother clutched her son, glowered at my friend, and said “he’s only a child.” (I told my friend he should have smiled and said,”You’re right, he’s just a child. We have raised two quite successfully. How many have you raised.” But, of course, he wouldn’t say that. No grandparent would. It just isn’t done.)

In fact, that was the end of the incident as my friend and his wife, like most grandparents, simply bit their tongues and kept quiet. After all, whatever they told their son about raising his child would fall on deaf ears. It matters not to the young that their parents and grandparents have lived a long time and had a great many experiences: the young know better. We moan about how little we learn from history, but we are simply echoing our behavior as young folks when we also ignored our elders.

But the interesting thing to ponder about this incident is that it is all-too-common. Our kids are being raised by parents who have been told that any sort of corporal punishment, or even strict discipline, will damage their child irreparably. But this is not the case. I’m not advocating corporal punishment, but it’s a psychological fact that little or no discipline will damage the child irreparably; strict discipline may result in a neurosis, but it is treatable. In a word, lack of discipline results in a character flaw, which is permanent. The pop psychologists who write the books that busy parents read and take as gospel have led several generations of parents down a blind alley: their children are growing up severely flawed — a situation compounded by the added damage the schools are doing by reinforcing the notion that children should be praised but never criticized.

I was a camp counsellor in Maine for five summers. The owner of the camp was a wise man and seemed to know everything there was to know about raising kids. After all, he worked with 110 boys every year for more than twenty years and had raised two girls of his own. During the very first meeting with the counsellors he told us to be sure to mean what we say when we reprimand the kids in our charge. “If you tell them to stop doing something or you will kill them and they continue to do it, you will have to kill them.” He was obviously making a point: mean what you say. If the child is misbehaving and you threaten him — by insisting you will take away his dessert that evening, or confine him to his cabin– then you will have to take away his desert or confine him to his cabin. The worst thing you can do is make the threat and fail to carry it out. In this case the child becomes confused and ceases to believe the authority figures in his life. Lines that should be drawn are not and he doesn’t know what is appropriate action. As a result he eventually learns to ignore authority figures generally, even though his psyche desperately needs authority figures in order to allow him to fully develop his personality. The camp owner didn’t go into detail, but he made his point. And when parents disagree about the punishment their child deserves the child becomes confused and his world is scrambled. Consistency is essential to good child rearing.

My friend’s grandson was getting mixed messages. He was being told that hitting is wrong and he was also told it was OK because he is “still a child.” There is a glaring inconsistency between what his grandfather said and what his mother said in return. And his father said nothing, to make matters worse. One wonders how long he will remain a child in his mother’s mind. But one thing is certain: he will grow up a spoiled brat and a young adult with little or no self-restraint and a terribly weak character. How sad.


7 thoughts on “Sparing The Rod

  1. Our Millwright father gave us (not always unmixed but greater or lesser degrees of either) one of two options when meeting out discipline. Swift Pain, over in a moment but intensely uncomfortable. Slow Pain, over a period of time that was at least equally excruciating. The former is easy to guess…think some form of light-weight cudgel. The latter: Stand in one place without moving, and hold an object in one hand straight out and in front of your face…hold it there, switch it to the other hand without lowering it, if need be, but hold it there until told otherwise. Another would be to stand with your back flat against the wall and DON’T MOVE, until told otherwise. Inclement weather sometimes proved an intense piece of discipline, as could solitary confinement without forms of play or distraction.

    If he was met with non-compliance in any of these disciplinarian terms (suppose a child that refuses to participate in their own discipline), then it was all just a piece of Pain inflicted without remorse, without apology, without kind words, and without apparent mercy. Rarely did things ever deteriorate to so low a level, except when boys flaunt the law as laid down by the Rule of the House under whose Shelter we were thankful, if a bit intimidated. Better to protect us from the True Villains that were someday sure to come, with sweet and tempting words or malicious threat. Not our first rodeo, as it were. Take it or leave it, all told.

  2. Hugh, as you note the punishment need not be physical to be effective. Yet, when misbehavior warrants it, some form is required. I am not necessarily advocating this, but a well-followed child psychologist would say the best cure for a child biting you is to bite them back. BTG

    • Hugh, I don’t like what I wrote as it appears that I support corporal punishment. What I support is your comment about consistent treatment. We have tended to deny privileges (I-phone use, computer use, etc.) as punishment. I wish we were consistent, but I must confess we were not totally such. The child in question who punched the woman who had surgery (which is important, but less relevant to the deed), needed some admonition to say this is wrong behavior. Thanks for letting me redress my comments, BTG

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