Thursday, May 13, 2010

What is this "Gentle Discipline" of which you speak?

In this book I just finished, The Three Martini Playdate, the author talks about how a certain breed of parents has emerged who believe that "no" is much too harsh a word to say to their children, for fear it will bruise their little egos and break their little spirits. She describes an incident wherein another child repeatedly hauled off and socked her son, and the parent of the hitting child gently pulled the boy aside and explained to him calmly that it was "innappropriate."

I believe this is what is known as Gentle Discipline.

What a load of hooey.

There is a certain little girl and her mother whom we encounter nearly every day. This little girl, who is roughly Lilah's age and size, is what I have come to assume the object of this Gentle Discipline. Nearly every day I witness this little girl poking and pushing other children and grabbing things away from them - toys, books, even backpacks and lunch boxes. The mother - when she tears her attention away from the conversation she is deeply involved in with another parent, and notices that her sweet babe is not being so nice to the other kids - typically responds like this:

"Gentle, honey, gentle. We need to be gentle with our friends."

Seriously? Get the eff outta here. How about:

"No!" or the ever-appropriate "Keep your hands to yourself."

Yesterday this same little girl came right up to Lilah and shoved her, chest to chest. Lilah put on her best pouty-lipped scowl, Arnold Drummond style, and the little girl pushed her again. The girl's mother was busy chatting up another parent, so I marched right over to the little girl and said very sternly, "No pushing!" She looked at me, wide-eyed, shocked, I think, that an adult actually had the cajones to say "no" to her. "Why?" she asked me. "Because it's not nice," I said, still in my stern voice.

But the exact same scene played out again later in the day when we encountered her again. She went up to Lilah and shoved her. I intervened right away, marching up to her and saying "No pushing!" This time her eyes got big and she ran away from me. I think she's scared of me now. Good.

There was another incident a while back with a different little girl. I had Finn in the stroller, which I had pulled over to the side of the walkway and parked. There we stood, waiting, when this little girl walks right up to the stroller, looks up at me, and says, "Move." Um, excuse me? Her mom was standing a few feet away and gave me this knowing smile, as if to say, "Kids say the darndest things, don't they?" The little girl easily could have gone around us, but she decided that we were right smack in the middle of the path that she wanted to take, so there she stood, staring me down, waiting for me to move. I stared her down right back. Until finally she went away.

Mean, aren't I? But seriously. So rude! And her mother was just letting her get away with it!

I don't get it. What is it these parents are trying to accomplish, or avoid? Because I really don't think they're doing their kids or the world any favors.

I know - who the hell do I think I am? I'm certainly not winning any Parent of the Year awards, and my kids aren't perfect angels. They do, in fact, beat the crap out of each other at home - but they do not, I assure you, beat the crap out of, or in any other way assault, other children. They're actually pretty well-behaved out in the world, and I have to believe that this is due, at least in part, to their being given very clear boundaries.

I'm all about Attachment Parenting - breast feeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, and all that. I'm a firm believer that our first responsibility as parents is to teach our kids in infancy that they are safe, secure, loved, and that they can count on their needs being met. But somewhere between their first and second birthdays, they start looking for boundaries, and if there are none, they begin to evolve into what is known in some parts as brats. And brats, unchecked, grow up to be very unpleasant people who believe that their existence is at the center of the universe, and expect to have their way about everything. They've never learned give and take, they've never learned how to value someone else's feelings, they've never learned humility or how to handle disappointment.

And I'm not saying parents should be mean to their kids. There's got to be a happy medium - something somewhere between Mommie Dearest and Polly Pushover. After all, we're the bosses, right? Right! Let's act like it!

So listen, all you parents out there: please introduce your child to the word "no." You'll be doing the whole world a favor - and your kid, too.


The Hapa Girl said...

Excellent post, Lisa! I am so over those parents and now at the point where I will discipline their children whether they like it or not. I'm worried to see what the future holds for these children. I only imagine we'll have a bunch of criminals because no one taught them it was wrong to hit, push and steal.

diane rene said...

I am standing and clapping because I SOOO agree and have had enough of the coddling that goes on.
I am all for helping to build a child's self esteem, but there is a difference between enabling them and boosting their self esteem ... and the line is no where near fine.

Lisa B said...

OMG - This is EXACLTY what behavior was the beginning of the end with you know who...she is the QUEEN BEE of Gentle Parenting - her kid shoves my kid down from behind multiple times in a day only to hear "Honey, why would you do that?" NO REPRIMAND AT ALL and of course when I finally did what you did - the straight look into the eyes, the loud and stern "Stop doing that" - the kid bursts into tears and now I'm the bitch...But you know what I am with you - GOOD - if her kids are scared of me I am fine with that :) My kids don't go around biting, slapping, pushing and punching kids like hers do and I think that has everything to do with my stern parenting style and her Gentle "Parenting" (note my sarcasm with the quotes...) I know my kids love me and know they are loved BY me..boundaries do show love and attention whereas no boundaries make kids feel insecure because they have no guidance for right and wrong...

Keep on keepin' on! L

ashamom said...

I can't believe that kid told you to move. I think I would "accidentally" let the stroller roll on her.... Nah, I wouldn't but...geez!
I agree with your point 100%
My neighbor learned the hard way what it does to children , that "gentle parenting". Her daughter, now 8 just annoys all the kids and adults alike. But she never heard "no" when she was little and even now she barely ever hears it... her mom homeschools her now. it's a disservice really- this girl is really lonely.

Heidi said...

Ugh, there are so many families in the "city" near me who refuse to discipline their offspring. It pisses me off. I think that they aren't parenting their children. When one of their offspring commits an offense against my kid, I respond to that child the same as I do to my kid when he whacks another child. I tell them "no". It often brings tears and their parent comes to the rescue. I think that this so called gentle discipline is setting up an entire generation for a shock when they hit the real world later.

heather said...

I think you need to submit this article (it deserves to be called more than a post) to different Parenting magazines. Guaranteed it would be published. You really should be a contributing editor somewhere. You're just that good!

Angie said...

agreed Lisa.
I had experienced this a few days ago. When a 'friends' child launched a metal train at Tilly's head (leaving her badly bruised) because she wanted to touch 'his' toys. "oh yeah, he likes to throw things" was the mothers reponse!? WTF? I wanted to smack him silly.
excellent post Lisa!

Life After Grad School said...

In my opinion "Gentle Discipline" = NO DISCIPLINE. How is a child supposed to know that it is wrong to hit, push, kick or bite unless they are told and there are consequences for doing such things?

I see this time and time again at hockey games (I'm a season ticket holder for an NHL team). Kids will kick my seat, hit me with souvenir sticks and throw food at me. I've learned that the first time something like this happens, I turn around and tell the kid to stop. Most then do. If the kids doesn't stop, then I tell the parent to stop the kid or I will get the usher involved. I've been told that I'm a bitch ( to which I responded what a great example of behavior for your children), but most times it ends there. I have had to get the usher involved once and the police involved another time (a Disney Dad took the 6 year old to the bathroom, leaving a 3 year old behind)!

Oh, and I second the notion of submitting this post/article to a parenting magazine. Although I suspect that the people that would read the article wouldn't be the people that NEED to read it!

The Beers Family said...

Cheers Lisa on a wonderful post! I deal on a daily basis with the end result of Gentle Parenting of Wonderful Brilliant Children at the college I teach at - UGH do these kids grate on my nerves. Sadly when we do have a confrontation and I stand my ground it usually results in their tears. I third the notion that you should send this out for publication.

Paige said...

I agree that the parenting you describe is not parenting at all. However, this is NOT what Gentle Parenting is. Gentle Parenting does use "NO" and has limits and boundaries. It seems some people hide permissive parenting under the guise of Gentle Parenting. Don't be part of conflating the two.

Krista said...

There are several premises to Nonviolent Communication that I'd like to share:

Nonviolent communication (NVC) gives priority to creating a high quality of connection to oneself and between people. NVC advocates claim that without connection, effective communication cannot occur.

Here is an incomplete list of some basic NVC principles:

1. Maintaining a focus on needs is a central premise of NVC. Needs, as the term is used in NVC, are universal and experienced by all people at different times and to different degrees (examples: respect, safety, trust, honesty, care, well-being...). They serve as a basis for understanding and more easily sympathizing with motivations.

2. NVC distinguishes needs from strategies, which are specific plans to try to meet needs. NVC advocates claim that if people interact only with an awareness of strategies, it is easy for people's strategies to come into conflict. NVC advocates claim that operating from an awareness of needs increases flexibility and cooperation, insofar as there are typically many strategies that could lead to a given need being met. NVC practitioners report that awareness of needs leads to deep satisfaction.

3. NVC advocates claim quality connections and a focus on meeting everyone's needs serve these ends.

I believe that all behaviors are attempts to meet needs.

I also believe the most fundamental key to achieving cooperation is connection. And the key to connection is empathy, not threats, or being "boss" over another.

Empathy, in a nutshell, is getting curious, not furious, about a person's actions.

Curious = wondering what is going on behind the actions of the person, empathizing with their motivations - instead of judging a person as "bratty" or bad, rude, disrespectful, mean, etc. etc... or reacting with threats, punishments, coercion, control or rejection.

It's your choice to respond to someone's behavior with empathy or with judgment; but either way you choose, in the end you're going to put time and energy.

With judgment, you break connection and curtail your chances of receiving respect or cooperation or being understood by that person.

Choose empathy and connection and you increase your chances of getting your needs for respect and cooperation met by that person, and very likely won't be dealing with that same behavior again.

I'd really like to see terms such as "gentle discipline" drop off the face of the earth. They are confusing and vague and lead to debates like the one in your post. There is no *one* accurate term to slap on "the right way to parent", and "gentle discipline" is far too big of an umbrella term to offer any clarity on what's really important, in my opinion. I'd like to see way more of a focus put on the values behind each of our parenting choices.

I'd love to emphasize, also, that there is no hierarchy of values. "Respect" is not meant to be only afforded to those who behave in ways that we enjoy. Everyone needs it, at all times, including the child in your post who is being judged as a "brat". That doesn't mean you condone the behavior or like it, but respect the needs the person is trying to meet, through them.

I am hearing that when you heard the child say "move", you felt annoyed, irritated, shocked, as this didn't meet your need for choice, respect, consideration?

I am wondering if you're willing to consider the possibility that your feelings were a result of your initial judgments about the child, and less about the child's actual behavior?

We all get so caught up in our judgments of what is "right" and "good" and "appropriate" that we feel overwhelmed and angry and forget that other people don't actually cause us to feel that way.

Lisa Russell said...

Gentle parenting begins at birth and it's a connected, constant attention to the child's expressions, so that they DON'T turn into heartless, violent meanies. The kids and parents you speak of aren't practicing gentle parenting, it's a shame. I speak to my kids the way I'd want to be spoken to and redirect their activities the FIRST TIME it's "inappropriate" rather than just allowing other people to be victimized. I can see what you're saying, but the Gentle Discipline movement, of nonviolent communication and connected parenting is not what you're describing here. Pity.