Disciplining a child – a lesson in humanistic parenting.

Are switches and hitting a good discipline technique?  After all, NFL star Adrian Peterson has been accused of hitting his 4 year old son with a switch. Many people, myself included are horrified. This is child abuse. Others, like Sean Hannity, think it’s a valid discipline technique.  Who is right?  Well – I am of course!!!

Let me address this as a former animal trainer. No good trainer uses physical violence as a training technique. Ever. Anyone who does is an idiot who doesn’t know what they are doing. And if they do this to an animal, they would be brought up on animal abuse charges!  It’s not considered acceptable to beat the crap out of your dog because it’s not consider a valid training technique anymore.  And, if you wouldn’t use physical battery with a potentially deadly weapon to train a dog, because it’s unnecessary, counterproductive and brutal, why on earth would you do it to a child!

What happened to Peterson’s son was battery with a weapon. There is no other lens with which to view what happened.  With all due respect to the Sean Hannitys of the world who think beating a toddler with a stick is a good way to teach them a lesson, it’s not. There are decades of research with more evidence than can be cited here that show if you want to get a behavior to stop – the best way to get it to stop is to stop rewarding it while you give the animal a different way to reach their reward.  Negative reinforcement – which is what physical punishment is – is still reinforcement and it is counterproductive.  So if you really wanted to discipline a child, wouldn't you do so in a way so that they would actually learn what you want them to?  Yeah – I thought so.  Beating a toddler with a stick doesn’t teach them anything except to be afraid. And ... there is a lot of science to back that up.

Additionally, there is new research that shows hitting also impacts brain development negatively.  So, not only does hitting a toddler with a stick not produce better behavior, it causes brain damage.  It’s abusive and unnecessary and counterproductive.

People really do need to learn alternate ways to get their kids to comply with their requests. The good news is those alternate ways are way more effective at helping kids learn to be powerfully ethical and self-sufficient. No hitting required.

What are these other more effective techniques? I’m glad you asked. 

I am a Humanist and a parent. I have a very well behaved child. I have never hit him. He is given consequences and we use the Socratic method to help him choose behaviors that will benefit him and our family. He is free to choose his actions, but there are consequences, both good and bad depending on his choices.  My goal as a Humanist parent is not to have an obedient child. I want a child who can make good decisions for himself, including going against authority if authority is wrong. That requires me to help him learn how to make decisions. The Socratic method is fabulous for this. As soon as he could talk – we started reasoning with him.  It takes a bit more effort on the front end, but it pays off in spades as they grow.

We also used time outs. These are not considered punishments.  They are an opportunity for you to collect yourself and your emotions and to get your emotions out without harming those around you. Mommy and daddy take time outs when we need to and our son has been taking time outs for himself for several years now (he’s 9 as I write this).  Again – it’s not a problem to be frustrated or angry, our goal is to not do something we will regret while we are frustrated or angry. And sometimes, you just need to go somewhere alone and vent. We all do.  As a result, when we have disagreements in our home, they are settled rationally and without yelling.

If my son starts to do something he shouldn’t, I ask him if he really wants to do that.  The answer is usually no. If he starts to negotiate and it’s something we can be flexible on – we negotiate. If it isn’t negotiable – like getting a shot or something, we tell him – this isn’t something you can negotiate. We rarely have problems anymore.

A non-violent approach to child discipline works incredibly well. Anyone who meets my son will attest to that. So, stop hitting your children and teach them how to make good decisions for themselves.

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