the Pope, and the Smacking of Children

So, I haPrintd great hopes for this Pope. He was a man of the people, a decent human being, and truly seemed to care and connect with his community. Then he said that birth control would never be allowed by the Catholic church, and followed a few hours later with: This does not mean you have to breed “like rabbits!” Sigh.

Now, he has commented that it’s OK to smack your kids, as long as you don’t humiliate them. Yes, I will admit he was talking about spanking, which seems to be a blind spot, but the only place he outlawed for said smacking was the face, and hitting is hitting.

I am not happy, and when I am not happy I make lists. Below is an even dozen tips on how to discipline kids that, while not ordained by God, is based on common sense and a lot of experience with children:

  1. Don’t hit your children. It is not possible for a big person who is four times the size of a small person to immobilize them and hit them, without frightening and humiliating them. It can’t be done.
  2. Before you discipline, make rules that make sense, and inform your children. You shouldn’t punish them for breaking a rule they didn’t know about.
  3. Decide on the manner of discipline before they break the rule. Never decide on the punishment when you are angry; you will do things you later regret. Involve the children in the decision. “What do you think would be an appropriate punishment if you break this rule?” Kids can come up with some very creative punishments. Don’t listen if they want to be burned at the stake, or shot into outer space.
  4. Be consistent in your discipline. They knew the rule, they broke it, they get the punishment each and every time. Don’t even think of issuing a warning for a rule they already knew. Kids are smart; they will figure out that they can break any rule, once.
  5. Make the discipline appropriate for the crime. If they broke a toy, they loose the toy. Mean to another child? Being made to appoligize is harder than any spanking, and the memory will make them consider before they do it again. Look at porn on the internet? “I guess you get to do your computer homework in the kitchen where we can see you. Dude.”
  6. Make the discipline immediate and short term. None of that “Wait ’til your father gets home!” stuff. If you wait too long, your child will disassociate the punishment from the crime. The same thing is true with punishments that last more than a day or two. Three months of grounding for that, umm, incident, will loose its effectiveness after a while.
  7. Hold out hope for the future. Your child needs to know that you still love him and he may someday get his tablet back. The stick doesn’t work without the carrot in place. “Pick up that mess you made and we can sit and read that book you love!”
  8. Don’t tower over your child when you enforce discipline. Start with the respect any human deserves, get down to their level, look them in the eye, and explain the problem.
  9. Alternatively, don’t allow the discussion to devolve into excuses. Your child needs to take responsibility for his actions, not try to talk his way out of trouble.
  10. Make sure you squeeze in more rewards than punishments. Forever. How long would you go to work if you didn’t get a paycheck? Hug that child when he shares his toys. Play ball with her when she finishes her homework. Be astonished and happy when they clean their rooms. Rewards will always work better than punishments.
  11. Teenagers are, as always, a special case. Their brains are not fully developed yet, and they will not be able to see the consequences of their actions far into the future. They are also not always rational: a teen once asked me if it was true that a girl could not get pregnant if she put a yellow skittle in her vagina when she had sex. They need freedom to make mistakes, but they also need to be protected from mistakes that will kill their futures. Watch them, without blinders. Know where they are and what they are doing. Contracts work: if they know you will come and pick them up anywhere, anytime, and not freak out in front of their friends, your child will call you. You can discuss the consequences with them in the morning.
  12. Again: Never hit your child. Not only is it disrespectful and humiliating, it also simply doesn’t work.

Realize that the goal of discipline is a well adjusted, self confident adult who has a good relationship with his or her spouse and children, and a good reputation at work; the goal is not a well behaved thirteen year old. Have patience and keep the long view. Your child is worth it.

I do have hopes for this Pope, but if you are going to tell people that they need to control their birth rate, it is unkind to outlaw the most reliable ways to do that. It is poor parenting to tell your child to do his homework and then remove all the books, paper and pencils from the house. And perhaps an unmarried man with no children, who has never been faced with the possibility of that 2 AM phone call from the emergency room, is not the man to discuss the intricacies of child discipline.

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