Saturday, March 15, 2014

Parenting: 1 to 2 years

I'm discussing my successes and failures with various Christian parenting methods.
As stated here and here, I used punitive discipline methods touted by Dobson, Tripp, and Ezzo, who are popular in Christian circles for my oldest two children. Starting with my third child, I began to transition toward attachment parenting and gentle discipline.

This post touches a bit on child development from ages 1-2 and the effects both punitive discipline and gentle discipline have on a child.

There is a huge amount of cognitive and emotional development that happens between ages 1 and 2. Your baby is growing into a toddler! Learning language! Refining motor skills!

At this age, your child is learning that s/he is an autonomous being separate from mom or dad. This can cause a lot of anxiety and because language is still in the early stages, often results in either clinginess or tantrums (sometimes both!) when the child gets overwhelmed.

Punitive discipline methods teach parents to view such reactions as evidence of the child's sin nature. From this vantage point, a tantrum or clinginess is a child's desire to manipulate his or her parent(s) into conforming to the will of the child.

Such "dictatorial" behavior must not be allowed in the authoritarian punitive paradigm, or the child "wins." Therefore, a parent who subscribes wholly to the methods espoused by Dobson and Ezzo particularly (and to a lesser extent, Tripp) focuses on changing the child's undesirable behavior without regard to the cause of such behavior.

As you can imagine, spanking (hitting) or even isolating an anxious child is going to make the anxiety worse. Each incident will either escalate, with the child growing more and more frantic and the parent increasing the level of punishment, or the child will eventually shut down his or her emotions once s/he realizes only certain feelings are allowed to be expressed.

In the gentle discipline approach, teaching (discipline) happens through modeling, conversation, and natural or applied consequences that do not involve hurting or punishing the child. So given the above scenario of a clingy child or one in the throes of a tantrum, a parenting ascribing to gentle discipline would first attempt to figure out the cause of the unwanted behavior in order to meet the child's needs, and then address the behavior.

For instance, if a child is being clingy, holding onto the parent's leg and screaming loudly, the parent would first pick up or sit down with the child to calm him or her. The parent may say something like, "I see you're really upset (or sad, or angry - whatever is accurate). Are you afraid I'm going to leave you alone?" The child may answer verbally or signal with a head shake whether this is so. The parent would then reassure the child of love and security; if the parent is indeed leaving the child with a sitter, the parent will reiterate that the baby sitter is a safe person, acknowledge that saying goodbye even for a little while is hard, and give the child a specific reminder for the time the parent will return, like "after your nap."

In the gentle discipline paradigm, there is no correction needed, because the child's behavior is normal and age-appropriate. S/he will outgrow tantrums as more language skills and understanding of time and place are assimilated.

Many people raised with the idea that all discipline is corporal punishment balk at the idea of letting a youngster's behavior go unchecked. They erroneously believe that this teaches young children their behavior can be used to manipulate others. I know I believed I would actually damage my children socially by not physically disciplining them.

Studies are showing and continue to show that the opposite is in fact true. Physical punishment (hitting, spanking, switching, belting, smacking, etc.) has been shown to retard the growth of grey matter in the brain, potentially decreasing intelligence and even increasing the risk of mental illness. Spanking causes increased aggression and devalues both parent and child.

In my own experience, I saw that my spanked children feared me. They often behaved perfectly appropriately and followed instructions immediately. But they were like automatons. Their imaginative play became stunted. Instead of the elaborate scenarios they used to act out that were variations on a theme, they played the same scene over and over, almost like the movie Groundhog Day. Their nightmares increased. And when they did show inappropriate behavior or tantrums, it was huge, over-the-top, utter meltdown behavior.

My children who were parented gently were more work. Yes, it's much easier to threaten and smack than to work through a situation and try different solutions. But, my gently parented kids delighted in my presence instead of looking skittish. I enjoyed them more, too, because I saw their behavior as normal development rather than a personal affront to my parental authority. Our relationship was build on mutual respect instead of a hierarchy.

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