Keeping Mum
Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Sparing the rod?


Keeping Mum gets its fair share of interesting feedback, not least some that came in the wake of my instalment last week about going to the zoo with rather disinterested toddlers.

Capricorn, of Papakura wrote: "Man I can't get over how you parents let your children run riot over you. There must be some discipline in this surely, otherwise you will make a rod for your back when they get older especially in the teens, cos they know they will get away with it if they do a tantrum.

"Yes i am a parent, have had my 2 children who are now 30yrs old and 29yrs old. There was no such thing as sitting on the ground cos they didnt want to go anywhere or screaming and shouting out loud and what they want to do, Oh no, I would give them a smack on their legs with an open hand and Bobs your uncle, we are all happy looking at the animals enjoying our stroll around the Zoo..."

I quite agree with Capricorn actually. My sister's daughter and my pair of kids must sound like little swines, even allowing for artistic exaggeration which is sometimes the feature of story telling.

And as for the thousands of other parents trying to appease their little hellions at the zoo? A sure sign society's changing. Do we even employ discipline any more, and if so, is it the least bit effective?

It is such a thorny question these days. My own upbringing was very much that of Capricorn's children. I would never have been allowed to scream and yell at my parents, because they employed occasional physical punishment (and the natural handmaiden of physical punishment - the constant threat of physical punishment). They were not child abusers, I hasten to add, but simply very strict about the way we behaved.

I could write a series of books on my upbringing but to paraphrase: misbehaviour was not an option, at least not openly.

There have been times in my life where being brought up this way possibly helped me, but I retain a lingering dislike for any kind of physical punishment of children and do not, could not, employ it on my own.

And yet I do often wonder if life would be easier if I did.

It's probably true to say that parents who employ firm discipline early on reap the benefits later on. But when is the right age to start? If a ten month old screams when she doesn't get her way - like mine does right now - is this a developmental phase or something that needs correction (obviously not physical at ten months, but is there some other way?) And when does a screaming baby who needs calming become a screaming toddler that needs discipline?

My son has taken to yelling at me if he doesn't want to do something, and at times I am at a loss for what to do.

Ignoring him is difficult. Smacking is out for me; I do get angry but it doesn't seem to have a great deal of effect.

Sometimes, even though I know it's probably inappropriate, I give him the cold shoulder which does seem to work. But it only works when he really wants something that he can't have, and he eventually has to give in and apologise to get it...

So time consuming! And what does it teach him, except to learn to become wily?

I don't mean to suggest my children are unruly savages. They are actually reasonably well behaved and I am considered stricter than many mothers I know (and my husband often seems to think I am too strict. He was brought up fairly liberally and turned out probably better behaved than me!).

Even though I do believe it is ridiculous for a 2.5 year old to dictate which activities he'll engage in in the household, I have an instinctive dislike for the thought of breaking his spirit with over-the-top discipline.

I believe a relaxed attitude to discipline is probably better (although a temper can sometimes interfere with this belief) but it is sometimes hard to maintain an air of nonchalance when your toddler is driving you completely insane!

So there it is. I'm sure Supernanny would have a field day!

- Dita De Boni

Pictured above: Smacking's out, but does giving the cold shoulder to a child who's misbehaving merely teach them to become wily?

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