Over the course of a child’s lifetime, both parent and child have probably heard “use your words” from a pre-school or elementary school teacher and gratefully, many parents and caregivers use their words or discipline methods other than corporal punishment. I am surprised then, to learn that the National Education Agency, NEA, reports that, in 2017, 19 states still use physical discipline in schools.
There are hundreds of examples of incidents in which a parent might be angry enough or frightened enough to physically lash out but any intended benefit is invalidated when the harm to the parent-child relationship and the damaging life lesson for the child are considered.
In an interview referencing her new book, “Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward”, Dr. Elizabeth Ford estimated that approximately 98% of the patients had experienced violence during their childhood. While statistics vary and it can be exceedingly difficult to pinpoint any one causal factor, I do know that young children are developmentally unable to do all of the deductive reasoning that is needed to learn that the person hitting them just wants them to not get hurt or not repeat the bad behavior.
What the child does learn is that it’s ok to hit and that it’s ok to hit someone smaller than you. More significantly, physical discipline can ignite resentment and anger. A child knows they are powerless against the adult.
Alternative methods may include timeouts and withholding of privileges or something that the child wants. The child’s view of a parent stooping down, in very simple terms, to explain why the child’s behavior isn’t acceptable, is far better than a child’s looking up to see a grimacing adult about to hit them. The early use of words and reason that a child can comprehend teaches through the power of example and the use of words to express feelings. The ability to use words to express feelings and emotions supports the growing child’s ability to develop relationships, express emotions in a positive manner and enhances the development of a child’s emotional intelligence.
No discussion about using your words with children of every age and the power of words can conclude without noting that the power of words is double edged. When used with love, kindness, respect and positive intentions, words can heal, strengthen and motivate. When used in anger, frustration or rage, words can do incredible damage to the parent-child relationship and deepen any festering resentments.
Parenting can sometimes seem impossibly hard. It is time consuming and demanding. Anyone who says otherwise may not be entirely honest, but there are survival tools. After a little experience, most parents figure things out on their own. I have two techniques that have worked for me and countless others. First, when physical safety isn’t an issue, count to 10 or 20 with deep breaths before responding and next, accept and understand that as a parent you can change your mind. Often, words and discipline done in haste are unnecessarily harsh and may punish the parent more than the child —- for example, “you’re grounded for 6 months.” Parents who use their words can say “I changed my mind” or “I made a mistake.”
It’s allowed, and it’s one more example of the power of words that both parent and child can learn to appreciate.