“Spare the rod, spoil the child.” It is one of the few truisms that we have made the mistake of discarding. Spare me the scorn you might direct at me—but I do believe in that old adage.
I had written in an earlier article that parents are accountable for badly behaved children. They equally also deserve credit for well-behaved ones. Please understand that we need to distinguish between a terrified, withdrawn child and a polite child. Abuse of any degree is a horrendous, inexcusable crime, especially against children; and it is even more egregious when committed by the child’s parents. But when you let a child bully other children, or stamp his feet in public, or yell out invectives, letting him get away with such behavior is abuse.
Letting your children watch TV all day weekend long with a bag of chips while you sleep is abuse (yes, I know of someone who does exactly this) How do I define abuse? Of course, criminally cruel actions, or inaction, are definitely abuse. But the worst, and sadly, the most ignored abuse a child can endure is neglect. Not getting a child to finish homework is abuse; disregarding a child’s fear of sleeping alone is abuse too. Extending this line of thinking, ignoring a child’s tantrum, or indulging it, is abuse too. A sharp quick slap on the back just as he or she starts yelling in public is parental prerogative. Nay, it is a responsibility. And frankly, it is a duty of aunts and elder siblings if the parent is too self-involved to notice the child’s behavior. I do not mean one needs to deliver a stinging slap. You do not have to hurt the child. A quick, sharp slap on the shin is enough to tell the child that he or she has crossed limits.
Children who have been brought up with proper discipline turn out be better-adjusted adults. And discipline often requires more than the lame “time-outs” that are so prevalent in modern society. Everyone has to face life the way it is handed to them. A child needs to learn to accept rejection, to understand that they may be underdogs at some point in life, and that life is certainly not fair. The emotional tools they need have to be developed in childhood—and if a smack once in while helps them, so be it. They learn to control impulses. They learn to deal with conflicting emotions. They learn to accept that not everything in life will go their way. Teaching them that they cannot always have their way helps them deal with issues that are bound to come up in life.
So what do we as parents and adults in a child’s life need to do?
I believe children have been entrusted to us. It is a tremendous responsibility. We answer not only to the little individuals we help rear, but also to the society that they will be a part of. I am disgusted with people who produce children only to have the pleasure of having a baby to cuddle or to “experience” pregnancy. How can one trivialize such a major decision in life? Caring for a child does not merely mean sacrificing time, sleep, and myriad other little things that may have been a regular part of life until then. One needs to sacrifice a lot of impulse living—and learn to give priority to the many, many, needs of a little one for a long, long time.
Yes, it is easier to give the kid a lollipop so I can continue shopping in peace, but it certainly is not good for him to believe he can whine his way to get one. Yes, it may seem heartless to smack the three-year-old when he continues to throw everything off the table, but that he is what he needs to know. Every one has to learn to live by rules of civility and if the consequence has to be learnt with a firm slap on the back of the palm, do it!
We have coddled our children to the point where they cannot control their own impulses. Over-indulgence of children is rampant in today’s generation, and it does not bode well for the next. What kind of a society will it be when people are unable to deal with disappointment or cannot have the instant gratification they have been used to? How can they grow as people if all they have learned is to take care of their needs, at whatever cost they come? And it is not love that makes us do it. It is plain selfishness. It is so much easier letting children run helter-skelter and pretend to be a soft-hearted, indulgent parent (and look very dumb!). I know its sounds harsh, but only animals live by instinct. And even most of them have very strict rules on how far their babies stray!
There is a reason Humanity has developed society. Successful societies are what define the progress of civilization. Let us be aware that we are answerable to future societies that we are raising today. Hitting a future member of that society for snatching a friend’s toy for the third time maybe the most important legacy we leave!