Saturday, April 5, 2014

Please Be an Advocate for Children (I Beg You)

This post will be pretty long. I can feel it. Please bear with me though.

I was inspired to write this post because today my family was in town. I was with my husband Chris, as well as both of my parents, my sister, her husband, and her baby. My dad thought it would be fun to take baby to the zoo to see the animals there. We perused for a while going cage to cage, looking at everything (though I must say, baby was unimpressed and fell asleep about halfway into our expedition). Toward the end, we were standing near a Komodo Dragon, and a woman holding a young child (under two) was standing near us. The child looked at the reptile and screamed (half out of excitement and half out of fear is what it sounded like). The mother immediately turned to her child and yelled, "Stop it!" A few seconds later, the child screamed again. The mother then hit the child on the arm, and the child started to cry.

It hurt... both me and the child. I will explain.

I'm sure you've seen a situation like this before. Some parents believe that spanking is an effective form of discipline. I personally don't. Any way I look at it, you are hitting a child. Someone who is much smaller and weaker than you are. My parents spanked me as a child when I misbehaved. I rarely got spanked, because my parents taught me well beforehand. Spanking was a last resort. I do not believe that this mother was abusing her child, I just think that there are better, more effective ways to handle these situations. I've had many discussions with professors and classmates about appropriate discipline, and I just wanted to share some solutions that I have known to be effective in both solving the problem and teaching the child. I have a bachelor's degree in child development, so this information is credible, though it is partially mixed with my own beliefs.

1. Think about who you are disciplining for, you? Or your child?
If the spank is merely to keep your child quiet, it is inappropriate. The root word of discipline is disciple, which means to teach. Discipline should be to teach. The child should not fear discipline. You are their role model. They absolutely adore you. You feed them, clothe them, and give them shelter. You give them hugs when they fall down. You comfort them when they cry. If you are disciplining for your sake, you are doing something wrong.

2. Check your attitude.
Are you angry? Are you visibly upset? If this is the case, you may not be effective in your discipline efforts. You may behave in a way you will later regret. This is where spanking becomes an issue. If you spank while you are angry, you are much more likely to inflict a punishment that does not match the misbehavior. Spanking should only be done when you have your emotions under control. You should never spank your child when your emotions are running wild.

3. Do you have an audience?
Your child may just want attention. Find a private area where you can talk to your child. In the situation at the zoo today, if the mother had ignored the screaming the first time, the child probably wouldn't have screamed again. There are times where it is appropriate to ignore misbehavior.

4. Emotion Coach!!
I can't emphasize this enough. It is tried and true. Emotion coaching is a method created by John Gottman. You can find his book here. He writes many other books on marriage and relationships as well. If I can describe emotion coaching in one word, it's "validation." When your child is upset because his favorite toy is broken, put yourself in his shoes. How would you feel if your laptop suddenly broke in half? Tell your child you know how he feels. Tell him that you would be sad if your favorite toy broke too. Brian Regan has a great sketch here. (It's only 45 seconds, he's pretty funny). 

I could talk forever on emotion coaching, but another one I hear a lot is, "Just be happy." Tell me, if you are upset or angry and someone tells you to "just be happy," do you automatically perk up, smile at them and say, "Thank you! I was sad, but I am happy now." No. Chances are you want to hit the person sitting across from you with all of your strength. Your child feels the same way. So do not tell them to "just be happy" when they are upset. 

5. It's ok to take a minute to breathe.
One bit of advice I've heard from one of my professors is that it is okay to take a minute to breathe. If your child has been crying for ten minutes, and all of your efforts to console him or her have failed, you may find yourself quickly losing patience. It is okay to set your child in his or her crib for a moment and take a minute to breathe. Your child will be in a protected area where he or she cannot harm him or herself, and you can shut the door for, let's say, 5 minutes to take a quiet moment. Allow yourself to regain your patience. Say a prayer. Make a quick phone call to your partner or spouse. Lay down on your bed. Read a novel for five minutes. When you feel ready, you can return to your child and begin your efforts again. Chances are they are just tired, and they will probably fall asleep.

6. Children are concrete thinkers.
Piaget is one of my favorite child theorists. He has four stages:
• Sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational. The first three stages happen from ages zero to 11, then the last begins at age 12. The last stage is when they really begin to understand abstract thought. They understand it to a small extent before then, but not much. They do not understand "don't" or "stop", so by telling your child, "Don't run into the street, they are mostly hearing, "Run into the street." What is "do not"? How do you explain that? How do you explain zero? It's hard for even an adult. Turn your words into positive phrases. Instead of saying, "Do not run into the street," say, "Please stay on the sidewalk because playing in the street is dangerous." Instead of saying, "Do not hit your brother," say, "Please keep your hands to yourself." It's easier for your child to understand. It does take a lot of practice, especially in pressing moments, but once you get the hang of it, it comes naturally out of habit. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, "You don't have any children so you have no idea how to parent." I know that I don't have any children. That doesn't mean I'm incompetent in any way, shape, or form, just like popping a child out does not make you some sort of super parent. It is important to be as educated as possible about these things, so please do not disregard my words, simply because I do not have any children. Please join with me in being an advocate for children. It's possible that you may be the only hope for some children. Seeing you may be the best part of their day! Smile at children. Ask them how old they are. Ask them if they like their teacher. Ask them if they did anything fun today. Be their friend. Be kind.

I just wanted to close with a belief very close to my heart. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a member, I believe that each of us humans here on Earth have a very loving and merciful Heavenly Father. I believe that he watches over each of us. He knows each of our fears and our passions. He knows our names. I believe that we lived with Him before we were born here on Earth. I believe that we learned from Him and prepared ourselves to come to Earth. And not for one second do I think that our Heavenly Father hit us to teach us. I believe that He used His words to teach us, that He told us He loved us and asked us kindly to be better, to work harder. I believe that we felt sorrowful for disappointing Him and promised to be better the next day.

It's the same here on Earth. We are responsible for the little kiddos we have here. We can use our words to teach. We can tell our children that we love them and that we want them to be better tomorrow. And I can almost guarantee that they will feel sorrow, and promise you that they will try to be better tomorrow. Parents these days are either too quick to anger, or too busy to care. Please take time for your children. Take time to teach. Take time to tell them you love them. You made them, after all. (Or in the case of adoptive parents, you chose them.) Love each child. Protect them from harm. 

I understand that most of you try so hard to be parents. You feel you are doing your best, and I believe you. Parenting is hard. I've seen it in so many people. I've seen it in my sister, my friends, and of course, my own parents. It is not easy. But Heavenly Father has entrusted you for a reason. He knows you can do this. Thank you for making it this far in reading my post. Please feel free to comment. I would love to hear what all of you have to say. I appreciate those of you who have supported me in my beliefs and ideas.