Sunday, February 01, 2004
Time-outs and other disciplines are power tools Q: I understand that spanking children is bad because it teaches them it is OK to inflict physical pain on others. But I really don't understand why you say that other disciplinary responses when children do something wrong, such as time-outs or taking away privileges like talking on the phone, are not OK. These responses do seem to work and I can't see they are harming my children. Could you please explain your position? C.T., Wheaton
A: Don't forget discipline works only because we are bigger and stronger and because we control the resources they need. Given that the ultimate basis for our ability to manage our children's behavior is power, and given all children copy the way their parents treat them, how we use the power we have will shape the way our children treat themselves and how they treat others. Time-outs and consequences are emotionally harsh even though they are not physically violent. When children copy these strategies for handling differences of opinion, they may become adults who withdraw from relationships when the other disagrees with them or who use money or other material goods in controlling, punitive ways. This is why we advocate loving regulation as a way of managing children's behavior. In loving regulation, the parent steps in and regulates the behavior without ever adding unpleasant consequences such as time-outs. Loving regulation is nonviolent parenting; in this increasingly violent world, we need to raise our children to be adults who can tolerate others' differences without resorting to violence-physical or emotional.
How can I trust my 13-year-old after he lied to me? Q: My 13-year-old son told me he was going to stay after school and see a teacher for help with math. When he got home, I asked him how it had gone and he said the teacher had been helpful. That night I heard him on the phone with one of his friends talking about something that had happened when they were hanging out at a video game parlor in the mall that afternoon. I was so shocked and angry that he had lied to me that I grounded him for a month, and I have to admit I also yelled quite a bit. Now I feel I hardly know my son and I certainly don't trust him. How do I prevent him from doing this again? K.G., Palatine
A: We can understand your shock and dismay at discovering that your son had been so very deceptive. But the problem lies less with your son and more with the relationship that has evolved between you. You need to sit down with him and tell him that something has obviously gone wrong in your relationship because he doesn't feel he can tell you what plans he would like to make and trust that if you say “No” it will be for a good reason. Emphasize that you are not looking for opportunities to frustrate him. On the contrary, you want whenever possible to endorse his choices. For example, if the mall is safe and he has been getting his school work done, you might as well let him play video games with a friend for an hour after school-but only if he asks you. Explain that for his own good and your peace of mind, it is never acceptable for him to go places without telling you and that if he continues to do so, you will have to make sure you or someone else picks him up after school. This is a way of making sure yo r son is safe without punishing him. If your son responds to you by making his wish to spend time with his friends known, do reinforce his openness by listening carefully and facilitating his choices whenever possible.
Should my 8-year-old be prepared for the worst? Q: My 8-year-old daughter has a classmate who was just diagnosed with brain cancer. She will have to have surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and the prognosis is uncertain. My daughter announced her friend's illness to us very casually, “Samantha has a cancer in her brain; the doctors are going to take it out.” It is clear my daughter has no idea of the severity of Samantha's illness. I am wondering if I should tell her in advance that her friend may not get better so that she will be prepared for bad news if it comes. But I also wouldn't want her to tell her friend that I said she might die. What do you suggest? R.W., Chicago
A: Actually, the best way to protect your daughter is not to give her additional information. Children do best when they assimilate bad news at their own pace. Like other 8-year-olds, your daughter probably doesn't hesitate to ask questions about anything and everything. If she is not following up her announcement about her friend's illness with questions, it is because she is not ready to hear more. Your best approach is to stand by and wait until your daughter asks for more facts. You can also watch for changes in your daughter's moods or behavior, which might be caused by her unconscious reaction to this loss. If you see signs such as irritability, trouble sleeping, bad dreams, etc., ask her if something is bothering her. If she doesn't know, gently ask, “Maybe you are upset about Samantha?” Perhaps she will pick up on your suggestion and talk about her feelings. If not, at least you will have planted the notion that her friend's illness might be affecting her in ways she doesn't realize.
Meanwhile, you might suggest that she make a get-well card or go with you to buy a book or something else that will amuse her friend during her treatments and hospital stay. Helping your daughter take an active, caregiving role will allow her to feel less powerless in the face of her friend's illness.
Questions? Here's your chance to get some answers to your pressing parenting questions. If you're trying to figure out how to handle some aspect of your child's behavior, send your question to Chicago Parent Q&A, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302; or e-mail it to SPedersen@wjinc.com. The Piepers will respond to three questions per month. Sorry-they are unable to respond to questions that they do not answer for publication. More Answers For more answers to questions from readers since January 2000, visit our Web site, www.chicagoparent.com. Click on “Past Issues” and then “Smart Love.” For a more complete understanding of the Pieper's philosophy and psychology, read their book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You A Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person.
Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself From Moods and Behaviors That Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill, 2002; paperback edition, March 2004), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person (Harvard Common Press, 2001). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.