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Parental Discipline

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



THERE is a saying in a good old Book, which was once on the lips of all parents, but has today apparently been forgotten : "Spare the rod and spoil the child." The very use of the rod, or its equivalent, seems to have disappeared in the past with other once familiar household gods.

General Considerations.-It is undoubtedly true that there was far too much of the rod in homes until of late years. We would not, if we could, bring back that instrument of torture which, like the thumb screw, has had its day. But is there not a great danger, lest in doing away with the thing itself we also do away with what it stands for, and let all punishments go with it?

There could be no greater mistake than to bring up a family of children with the idea that whatever wrong they did, no penalty would follow. They would soon learn to be perfect savages, impossible to live with, and worse still, they would be-come citizens who would break every law which trammeled them. Punishments are absolutely essential in every home; the questions are what should they be, and when administered and by whom.

There is a wise book which has recently been revived, called " Gentle Measures in the Training of the Young," written by Jacob Abbott. No parent can read it without learning from its old-fashioned suggestions many ideas for his help to-day. Its ways of dealing with children may not be ours, but they help us to form some for ourselves which are possibly as good for our children. That book, and Helen Hunt Jackson's "Bits of Talk About Home Matters," are excellent guides to the beginners on the road of discipline.

Perhaps one of the first lessons a parent must learn is that the punishment must invariably follow when it has been promised. To tell a child, "If you do that again I must do some-thing serious to make you remember," and then when the time comes merely repeat the threat, is worse than folly. But of course one must be very careful in making the first statement. If one speaks in anger, or in haste, then there is the danger of injustice, or oversevere punishment. First think whether you are doing the wisest, best thing, and then when the mind is made up as to the proper punishment, let it come with cool, even-handed justice, and one or two inflictions will cause the lesson to be remembered.

Of course no parent worth the name would ever punish a child while still angry; that means doing him a wrong. It is always safe to wait till both are over the first outbreak, and then punish. It is difficult to do this, for strong indignation prompts to quick action; nevertheless it is the only safe rule to follow. How many regrets one has who hastily, perhaps unjustly, punishes a child, only a parent knows.

Methods of Punishing.--As to the kind of punishments, they should be varied; perhaps the best of all because the most easily understood, is that of deprivation. Suppose a child is greedy at the table and eats with perfect indifference to all the manners which have been taught him; after some such exhibition a mother may talk to him about his faults and explain that he has no right to spoil the comfort of others, and say that if he repeats his objectionable ways he must lose his dessert the next time. Perhaps the very day following he forgets, and repeats his offenses; his mother may whisper in his ear a reminder which goes unheeded; but when the dessert comes on the table and he may have none, the punishment is so felt that it need not be repeated for several days, and a few experiences will accomplish a complete cure. If only one is firm and relentless, this is an unfailing way to secure one's end.

So with quarreling; children who will spoil the peace of the home by squabbles and fights may have a penalty of exactly the same kind, and have to spend an hour or more in bed on Saturday, a deprivation which they will keenly feel. Any loss of pleasures is a real punishment. Many a boy would far rather take a whipping and then go fishing with the other boys, than to have to stay in bed and see them go without him; and so the very essence of punishment is secured.

Corporal punishment, indeed, is by no means the most effective, to say the least of it. It has very real dangers connected with it, and few parents, perhaps only one in a hundred, are to be trusted to administer it wisely; it is far better to avoid it al-together, for the delicate frame of a child is easily injured by the heavy hand of an adult. Edison tells how a box on the ear, administered by an angry man, made him deaf for life. It is only for the small child, the one too young to understand any-thing else, that a tiny administration of little pats is best under-stood and remembered. George Eliot advocated a little "tingling, in soft, safe places." But once out of babyhood it is best to substitute something else for such measures, and there are plenty of other punishments.

It is really the idea of the punishment more than the thing itself which is effective. One mother devised a system by pre-paring little squares of blue and white paper; when a child had been naughty it had to put one or more blue squares in a box; and when it had been good all day it put in white ones at night, at the end of the week if the white squares predominated, there was a reward, and if the blue, none at all. Nothing could have been more simple, but it worked to a charm.

As children grow out of childhood, the idea of deprivation as punishment still holds. A girl who spends all her week's allowance and has to go without something she wishes for, or even something she really needs, is being punished in this way. A boy who must give up an anticipated trip to town because he has done wrong, remembers it for weeks and does not repeat the offense. But of course it is unjust on ordinary occasions suddenly to punish a child without warning. It is better at a first offense to do nothing radical, but rather explain the wrong, and say that it must not be repeated, or such and such things must follow.

Dangers of Confinement.-Mothers often have a way of talking over with children their wrong-doing, just as they are put to bed at night. Then when all is quiet they have a talk which grows more and more serious because the child is tired, and frequently ends in a cry. This we know today is all wrong. At bedtime it is essential that a child should go to sleep happily, or the rest is unrefreshing. It is better to talk things over earlier and settle matters, and end the day in peace.

The old-fashioned punishments of putting a child in the closet or sending him supperless to bed have been rather for-gotten, and wisely. A child is too often made afraid of the dark by the first punishment, and physically injured by the second. It is just as effective to put a child alone in a lighted room, and let him sit in one chair for a time as to put him in a dark closet, and a supper of bread and milk eaten all alone in the nursery is better than no supper at all.

There are so many simple punishments which correct the wrong, that it seems unnecessary ever to administer others which are more severe. The very small child can have his hand tied up when he slaps; the older child can be kept apart from the rest when he, too, strikes; the boy can be kept home from a ballgame if he fights when he should not; these things really are felt, and felt deeply, and will prove in the long run to overcome the bad habits.

Dealing with a Violent Temper.-One of the most difficult things to deal with is violence, self-will, screaming, or general loss of temper; this is best punished by a whole day in bed, on the ground that no well child could possibly behave in this way. The enforced quiet rests the nerves of the child, who is really worn out by its temper, and at the same time it is a deprivation so severe that it is deeply felt.

Of course the real end of punishment in the home, as in prison according to our modern ideas, is to help one to overcome his faults and prevent repetition. This is what every parent should keep in view, and what every child should understand. The resentment one feels when he is punished will gradually disappear when one knows that it is only because it is necessary to help him to get rid of these wrongs of character that the parent must enforce the penalty. It takes time, and infinite patience, and wonderful poise and calmness to carry out systematically a course of punishments such that children will appreciate them and respond to their aims, but it can be done. And, most important of all, discipline will rapidly grow less in the family circle as the growing children learn why they are punished, and that it is love and wisdom, never temper or caprice, which prompt the parents to inflict the penalties. If only parents are slow in their decisions, never overhasty, and if they try always to be perfectly just, the reasons for punishment will be acknowledged, and, hard as the restrictions or de-privations may seem at the time, they will be appreciated later, and the lessons will be finally learned.



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