Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dictator or Father?

- raising kids is a discipline in itself

In my latest post about raising children, I was talking about the strange notion some people have that violence is not only a way to raise kids, but that it is needed to maintain discipline and respect. I was (I hope) very clear on this point: spanking is violence! Violence is a no-go!

Today I want to present an alternative to spanking. Or rather, I want to present an idea of what disciplining your kids really means. Remember, spanking is a no-go AND - very important! - IT DOESN´WORK! All you will achieve by spanking your kids is alienating them and making it impossible for you to help them in their adult life.

If you spank your kids, you won´t be able to share your wisdom and experience with them, neither when they are kids, nor when they are all grown up; because the day they leave your house to go live for themselves is the day your influence is declared null and void!

So, what to do, if violence doesn´t work? Do we not need some kind of power as parents? Some kind of leverage to get our kids to do right?

Force is a tool for change, not learning
Well, yes... - and no! - The basic mistake is this: the use of power is not - and I repeat: NOT IN ANY WAY - a tool for teaching your children anything. And I really mean *anything* - the use of power is a tool to get their attention, nothing more, nothing less. That makes power the last tool to grab from your parenting tool box, not the first or even the 10th.

I also need to emphasize that mentioning 'the use of force,' I´m not just talking about spanking. I´m talking about every and all uses of force, that is: any kind of action, where you as a parent use your power to make your kid do (or not do) what he/she doesn´t want to (or want to) do!!!

I just stated that the use of force doesn´t teach your children anything in itself. The reason is quite simple. No person in this world can truly learn anything important, if it is not learnt by heart. That is: true learning is not something going on in your brain. It´s not knowledge alone, it has to be combined with what you might call wisdom. It´s not a coincidence we use the term 'learning by heart' because really learning is about taking the knowledge in and implementing it in your life - willingly!

Let me give you an example from the adult world:

When ‘the coalition of the willing’ invaded Iraq, some of the most hard core politicians genuinely thought they could force Iraq into modern day democracy. Did they succeed? I think not... But! - what really *was* a success was the fact that a democracy was born from the ruins.

Not a democracy like we know it in the western world, but this is where we should remember that our democracies weren´t exactly free democracies in their childhood either. For instance, it wasn´t till the 20th century women were eligible for governing organs and neither did they have the right to vote in most western democracies before 1930 (in fact, the final canton in Switzerland to give women the right to vote didn´t till 1984!)

Iraq began its journey toward democracy following the invasion, but the Iraqi people have to find out the rest for themselves...

The same goes for children. You cannot force upon them the complete understanding you have gained from experience. They need to figure it out for themselves. But what you *can* do is force them to stop for a moment and think. And when they stop to think, they just might come to the conclusion that it is better to start listening to you.

Here there is something very, very important to understand about the use of force: you have to let go of that tool as soon as you see them stop and think. If you don´t, you shift the focus for learning from 'learning best way' to 'learning how to make mum and dad happy.' 

I probably don´t have to say this, but I´ll do anyway: This is just as useful in the discipline of raising kids as Burgers and fries as the main meal is good for your health.

The use of force is ONLY to be used as a wakeup call, nothing more. If you continue the use of force after they start to listen, you will force the child to replace their own thinking with an escape plan: ‘how can I get mum and dad to like me again?’ And this is never good.

Instead, as soon as you see the child stopping to think, let go of the power. Give the kid a chance to make up his/her mind and figure out that the best course of action right now is to listen.

Fear the right thing
My second point is about fear. Having a basic understanding that children are human beings with less experience and equally valuable to any adult, the intuitive understanding of fear is that if the kid experiences fear, it can never be a good thing... However, it´s a bit more complicated than that.

All human being experience fear and in modern society fear is one of the most common barriers for success. Fear can make us hide when we need to stand tall and fear makes us bend to other people´s will, when we need to make up our own minds. For those reasons (and many more) the popular understand is that fear is, per definition, ‘bad’ - but really that´s not the case. Fear is neither bad nor good. It´s how we react to our fears that determines good or bad.

My father-in-law was a farmer and the first time I entered the stable I had somewhat of a chock. The sight of 50+ milking cows´ rear end lined up on each side of me made me freeze right there on the spot. This was new to me and I was struck with fear, because I didn´t know how to handle these animals. Fear made me cautious; a good thing. My response to this fear was to observe, how my father-in-law handled the cows and little by little, I learned how to handle them as well.

I feared the cows and looked to my father-in-law to learn how to handle them and this is exactly what your children need to do in their lives: they need to understand that listening to you and observing how you do things can benefit them.

In other words: if your kids fear you, it´s a bad thing - but if your kids fear not listening to you, it´s a good thing!

Let´s sum up this post:

#1 - Force is a tool for change - As a parent, if you want your children to learn from you, power is to be used with caution. You cannot force your experience upon them and if you try, they won´t gain any wisdom. They will only become experts in making mum and dad happy. And even more importantly (though this is not very clear in the above due to my wish to economize writing space) if you try to force your experience on them, their focus will be on weither mum and dad loves me or not as opposed to mum and dad knowing best.

#2 - Fear the right thing - The use of power is a tool for getting the attention of your kids, but it´s important to let go of that tools as soon as you reach that goal - if you don´t, your kids will fear *you* instead of fearing their surroundings and look to you for help and wisdom. However, using force in the above mentioned way, you can get their attention and as they experience over and over again, what happens if they don´t listen to you, they will learn that one important lesson: listen to mum and dad, because they have been around for some time and most of the times, they have a few things to teach me.

For a tool using these principles, see this

Now, it´s your turn.  Do you have experience you want to share?