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April 29, 2013

Parents, Please Get Over Yourselves

The Blog Princess has been much distracted of late with work insanity and the joyous rites of home ownership: the driveway resurfacing, the whole house power wash, the spring yard cleanup and mulching (you will no doubt be relieved to hear that she narrowly avoided the despicable practice of Volcano Mulching). Suck Such delights have left little time or energy for boring the assembled villainry into stunned silence with her inane meanderings.

So you can only imagine the bitter glee with which she viewed the latest dispatch from the Narcissistic-Obsessive-Compulsive Parenting crowd. Having successfully convinced most of the country that spanking - a punishment our parents, grandparents, and peers mysteriously survived with no visible signs of Deep Psychological Damage (unless one counts that whole distasteful kitten torturing episode in the second grade... or the human body parts neatly stowed in that oversized freezer tucked under the basement stairs... or the inexplicable addiction to reality TV) - inevitably leads to the ravaging of obscure Asian nations in a manner reminiscent of Genghis Khan, the smart set have now set their minds to eliminating the scourge of time outs:

So there I was last week, perusing a preschool parent handbook, when I stumbled across a curious anti-timeout policy. “Time-out is not an effective form of discipline,” the packet explained. “This focuses on the negative and alienates the child.”

I felt an immediate pang of guilt. I’ve given my almost-2-year-old a handful of timeouts—defined as a brief time away from rewarding stimuli like toys, parents, and friends—for hitting the dog, throwing rocks, and standing on chairs. A few Google searches later, I learned that proponents of attachment parenting advise against timeouts because the interventions give kids “the feeling of being rejected by their parents.” This backlash isn’t even that new—Child magazine published (and Parents magazine republished) an article in 2003 called “Why Time-Out Is Out.”

Have my attempts to raise a good little boy scarred him for life? Or are these anti-punishment policies way overprotective and perhaps even harmful?

Some psychologists do believe that if you practice good “positive discipline” techniques, by stating facts rather than demands, using distraction to steer kids away from danger, and working out solutions as a family, you shouldn’t need timeouts, or at least not very often. And timeouts can be ineffective, psychologically damaging, and make behavioral problems worse. But that’s not because they are inherently dangerous; it’s because so many parents and teachers misunderstand how they should be done. Indeed, plenty of research suggests that timeouts are safe and useful when parents employ them properly and in the right situations. For instance, evidence-based parenting programs, including the internationally implemented Triple-P Positive Parenting Program, recommend timeouts, and such programs have found that the interventions successfully reduce misbehaviors as well as the risk that children will suffer from psychological issues like anxiety and depression. And in its guidance statement on effective discipline, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that “ignoring, removing, or withholding parent attention to decrease the frequency or intensity of undesirable behaviors” is “especially important in promoting positive child behavior.”

"Pre-school parent handbook"?

When did preschool - hardly a complex endeavor at the best of times - become so complicated that it requires an operating manual? This is the kind of detail that makes us feel like a superannuated geezer who has outlived everyone who might understand the world we grew up in. In our day (she said, brandishing the sternly wagging finger of Age-ist opprobrium), preschools did not have handbooks because the popular consensus held that they were a good way for Junior to ease into the world beyond home for a few hours a week and for Mom to get more done around the house or spend some quality time with younger children. We didn't expect our little darlings to memorize ancient Ghazals in the original Urdu or be exposed to differential Calculus. Rules were fairly simple: no biting or kicking, and no kids still in diapers. Oh, and if your child caused problems or you didn't pay your bill, he or she would be banned for life... or at least until he or she turned 5 and attained the right to attend free public schools.

Having been blessed with progeny in 1979, the Princess entered the estate of motherhood with her head filled with all kinds of romantic nonsense about parenting. Having #1 son at home with a midwife was quickly shot down by the spousal unit, but we found one of the few hospitals in our area that "did Lamaze", signed up for 24 hour rooming in, and gave birth while in the lotus position whilst enveloped in peaceful prana.

OK, that's a total lie.

We did do Lamaze and rooming in (but did not go Full Leboyer, mostly because no one in Norfolk, Virginia had the slightest idea what that was). And the Princess embraced on demand nursing and envisioned parenting as a gentle interlude, during which she would calmly guide her offspring through the vicissitudes of daily life armed with nothing more than sweet reason and an inexhaustible supply of patience.

As it turned out, Number One Son hadn't been reading the same parenting books as his mother.

The red headed little beastie displayed an alarming ignorance of the latest theories on How Children Learn, rudely preferring rigid feeding routines (shudder!) and violating every precept of enlightened child rearing put forth by older and wiser souls. As it turned out, toddlers aren't terribly interested in sweet reason. They'd rather eat the dirt out of Mommy's house plants and pull the TV over on themselves than memorize Baby Einstein flash cards.

And so we improvised.

By the time Number Two Son came along, we had attained the ripe old age of 23. Number One Son had pushed every button, ridden every piece of tippable furniture to the ground at least once, and memorized all the words to The Night Before Christmas and several age-appropriate childhood dittys. The hell with all those parenting books written by so-called experts - we were ready to write our own book. Unfortunately, Number Two Son wasn't a big fan of our hard won parenting philosophy. If you're beginning to sense a trend here, a neatly stuffed marmoset is on its way to you by parcel post.

Number Two Son pretty much confounded every insight his parents had gained from parenting Number One Son. As so it remained during the entire time Heckle and Jeckle were growing up - if Heckle reacted one way, Jeckle could be counted upon to react in the opposite manner. Unless, of course, his parents had counted on him to do this. In that case, the rulebook went out the window and he triangulated.

Having reached the other side, its hard to figure out how much influence parenting style has on children. After 34 years of marriage, I'm still amazed at how often one or the other of us instinctively reacts to disputes in a manner that clearly echoes the very different parenting styles of our own parents. On the otter heiny, I never cease to be amazed at how different my grown sons are from one another. It's almost as though they were raised in different families, under different rules.

I find most modern parenting practices to be no more sensible than the ones I absorbed and then rejected when it became apparent they would not survive contact with the reality that children have their own personalities and agendas. They're not little blank slates, eagerly waiting for our scribbles. What disturbs me most, though, is the idea that children are delicate snowflakes who must never be allowed to experience pressure, disapproval, anger, rejection, failure.

These things are all part of life and if parents have one overarching goal, it is to prepare children to navigate a world in which the vast majority of people they meet have no special affection or regard for them. It's a world in which they will have to compete for jobs, for mates, for resources that are neither infinite nor inexhaustible. Sending children out into such a world with the misguided notion that every person is entitled to unconditional approval and affection (or equal income regardless of the choices they make) seems more an act of cruelty than of love.

What produces such delusional thinking?

Posted by Cassandra at April 29, 2013 06:55 AM

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All is not lost. All 4 of my grandchildren have been raised with spanking--ages 5-16 and are doing just fine thank you. They also understand that when they come to Pop Pop's house; Pop Pop's rules apply.

As to what produces such delusional thinking--look no further than your nearest Grad school.

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at April 29, 2013 09:13 AM

With nary a notion of social science, humankind went from the cave and the mud hut to the house and the penthouse. Without one theory to advise them humankind went from the kindred band to the nation to the empire. Since the advent of the social sciences (and theories economic) we have entered into a decent. The idea that social science is a means of destruction is worth contemplating before being dismissed as coincidental. Myself, I am so sure of the causation I would change 'first, we kill the lawyers' to 'first we kill the social scientists'.

Posted by: George Pal at April 29, 2013 10:23 AM

I think social science is stepping into the vaccuum created when people abandoned religion.

I don't really see social science as a cause so much as an effect (a lagging indicator of sorts). We've just replaced one appeal to authority (God) with another (science).

All 4 of my grandchildren have been raised with spanking--ages 5-16 and are doing just fine thank you. They also understand that when they come to Pop Pop's house; Pop Pop's rules apply.

Amen, Brother Mongo :p

My kids both survived the odd spanking.

Posted by: Cass at April 29, 2013 11:17 AM

The Triple-P Positive Parenting Program??!!!???!! WTH??!! A. I survived the odd spanking from my parents. B. I even survived the more painful "LOOK". C. Losing privileges and toys? Survived that too.

My daughter is doing fine. Yep - she's been spanked. Yep, she's had a time out or two. Yep, she's lost privileges and had things taken away.

My grandson, very willful and cute, 2 yr old . . . He's doing well too.

Nary a psychological or depression issue for any of us.

What that whole handbook and Triple-P thing tells me is that parenting is supposedly supposed to discipline but ensure that our kids ALWAYS like us and never get MAD at us! Right . . .sure . . .

I totally agree with this comment: "What disturbs me most, though, is the idea that children are delicate snowflakes who must never be allowed to experience pressure, disapproval, anger, rejection, failure."

And so, if parents make sure their children are wrapped in a bubble of happy and joy all the time - We grownups, who are a little more grounded in life, will watch them painfully and with extreme difficulty come to the realization that life is not always 'FAIR'. And the adjustment will be costly for many.

Posted by: Nina at April 29, 2013 12:18 PM

My style would be FSP: Full Spectrum Parenting.

I reserve the right to use any and all forms of disciplinary action up to and including "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out and make another one just like you".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 29, 2013 12:57 PM

Ahhh, YAG, you've been watching your old Bill Cosby. Please tell me you've been practicing kicking them back into play, as well.

Yanno, when I start reading phrases like "Some psychologists do believe...", I just can't stop the Pavlovian response. Fortunately, our heroine quickly provides a timely opportunity for snark (she said, brandishing the sternly wagging finger of Age-ist opprobrium) because I'm certain she really meant the Fickle Finger of Fate.
As to time-outs and their use, I have used them -- with other people's children. Mine got a swat...once. That was all she ever needed because any instance that might have necessitated another after that instead only required a reminder of that first time.
But, of course, what do I know? The VES has only been an honor student at every school she's been in, excels at every activity she commits her mind and spirit to and, oh btw, has grown into a beautiful young lady inside and out.
Shirley, I must be doing something wrong....

Posted by: DL Sly at April 29, 2013 01:30 PM

We grownups, who are a little more grounded in life, will watch them painfully and with extreme difficulty come to the realization that life is not always 'FAIR'. And the adjustment will be costly for many.

Amen. One of those Mom things I said to my kids all the time was, "Hey - life isn't fair and I wasn't put on this earth to make it so. Persun up."

I reserve the right to use any and all forms of disciplinary action up to and including "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out ...".

Heh... :) I said that a lot, too. Also, "Please go away for a few minutes. Mom's having a sense of humor failure. She loves you very much, but right now she really doesn't *like* you a whole lot."

Smacking or spanking was never my first resort (or even all that common a resort) but it was always in the toolbox. And other parents used to tell me all the time that my boys were very comfortable around adults. I can't help thinking a lot of that had to do with letting them know when they were being obnoxious or whiny (but also letting them know how proud I was of them when they were polite and considerate of others).

Posted by: Cass at April 29, 2013 01:58 PM

Parenting theories are not an effective form of academic discipline. They focus on the inane and alienate the Texan99.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 29, 2013 02:23 PM

".... alien ate the Texan99."

With fava beans?

Posted by: Snarkammando at April 29, 2013 03:09 PM

With fava beans?

... and a glass of soda, filled to State Approved levels.

Posted by: Mayor Bloomberg at April 29, 2013 05:54 PM

Ironically, this morning I saw a friend's post that quotes:

"In my day, we didn't have self-esteem, we had self-respect, and no more of it than what we earned."
- Jane Haddam

I felt that was appropriate to this discussion.

Posted by: MikeD at April 30, 2013 08:48 AM

Yanno, that would be more accurate as "Mayor Bloomersberg"....
Jus' sayin'

Posted by: Snarkammando at April 30, 2013 12:08 PM