Sometimes, people commenting here feed me the lines I need in so neat a fashion that I am frankly astounded. It is almost as though these individuals are my sock puppets; setting themselves up for me to knock them down again! One such commented here on the post I made yesterday, saying;
'I think there are 2 ways to have gentle "well behaved" children,
1. Frighten or embarrass them into it.
2. Behave in a gentle well behaved way and show them that that's a good way to be.'
This is, at least on the face of it, an interesting idea. Of course it is a piece of shameless self-advertising from the parent concerned who, we are invited to suppose, is gentle and well behaved, as opposed to the rest of us authoritarian types who are ogres. I quite like this image! I think that most people will see the flaw in the above claim at once. Frightening and embarrassing your child might produce a gentle, well behaved child. It is more likely to produce a neurotic or deceitful one; perhaps a child who is outwardly polite in the presence of his parents but is secretly a cruel bully. Similarly, gentle and well behaved parents might produce gentle and well behaved children. I have however known a few gentle and well behaved parents whose children were little monsters; rude to their mother, running riot, tormenting the cat and doing pretty much as they pleased because their mother did not have the gumption to control them. Real parenting is a lot more complicated than simply dividing parents up into two classes in this way; the good, gentle parent and the bad, frightening one!
I do not suppose that I have myself ever frightened my child. I have probably embarrassed her, but that is simply an inevitable result of a middle aged father having a teenage daughter. How has discipline been maintained in our home? It is quite simple. From a very early age, it was made plain to the children that in a family, everybody has to do things that he or she would rather not do. My daughters saw this as a background. They knew that I was not over keen on doing the washing or cleaning the windows, but became aware at a young age that their mother and I did these things anyway. From the time that they were toddlers, they knew that just as we did things which we did not like, so to would they have to do the same. It might be putting their toys away in the evening or sitting down and writing; but from the moment they could walk, they were expected to understand that as well as being individuals, they were also part of a unit. I don't believe that they were frightened or embarrassed by this; it was just the background. If they wanted a smooth life, with the cheerful cooperation of their parents, then they too had to play their part.
What sanctions were used to enforce this happy state of affairs? Well to begin with, I have never struck my children. this simply did not feature in the scheme of things. There were things that my daughter wanted to do. Going on days out and so on, visiting places like the park, playing games. If she cooperated by doing her part, then there always seemed to be time for the things which she enjoyed. If she delayed matters by messing about and not getting down to the things which we saw as her own duties; there might not be time for the pleasant excursions. This was not presented in the form of threats or rewards; she was never told that if she was a good girl we would do such and such a thing. It was more contrived to be an inevitable consequence of her own actions. If I had to tidy her room myself, because she had failed to do so, then I would have to do the laundry after that and this might eat into the time spent on things which she enjoyed. I never showed any anger or even irritation, I just let her know that the delay was her own doing and that the remedy lay in putting her toys and clothes away promptly next time. There was no nagging about the state of her bedroom; it just resulted in her missing out on time in the park or library. We did not have a computer until she was eleven and she used to book sessions on the ones in the library. If there was a delay in leaving the house because she had to do things which I had asked her do but she had not bothered with, then this ate into her hour on the library computer. This only ever happened once, but it was enough for her.
This process of cooperation has continued to this day. Like most seventeen year-old girls, she requires a good deal of money. If I am in a cheerful mood and have some in my pocket, then I usually share it with her. If, on the other hand, there is a bad atmosphere because she is being awful, then I feel less inclined to do so. The main thing is that we both realise that if the other is irritated, then the general atmosphere in the house becomes bad and nobody wants that. I try to avoid it and so in general does she. There would be no point in her trashing her bedroom, because this would be counter-productive to her own best interests.
I was always at pains to ensure that my daughter did not see the ill effects of her behaviour as being imposed by me. The reason is that when once a child starts to think like that, then she will persuade herself that if she evades the attention of the parent then everything will be fine. This promotes slyness and is a poor introuduction to the reality of life. The truth is that laziness and so on bring their own consequences and it is important for a child to learn this from a tender age.