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Lessons in Parenting
The Tough Job of Discipline
Published on October 31, 2012 by guest author: J LeBlanc

I recently read a letter requesting advice on Salon.com and the response horrified me. The letter-writer was asking how to deal with the eleven-year-old child of a friend who exhibited all kinds of inappropriate behaviors: grabbing things, yelling, demanding to be the center of attention — and it only got worse with any attempt at redirection or remonstrance. The child’s father reportedly did nothing to curb the behavior.    

The response was to upbraid the writer for calling the child a “brat” (fair enough), but went on to defend this behavior, which the writer had described as “bullying,” and which seemed to be an accurate term based on the examples he gave.  It accused the writer of squashing the joy and spontaneity of childhood with his negative attitude and seemed to recommend that parents let their children raise themselves. 

First of all, the term “bullying” should have sounded an alarm bell with the responder. Bullying is an important issue with school age children — pay even a little attention to the news and you will see reports of unhappy children who have been driven to extremes, even suicide by those who have bullied them. If this child feels comfortable attempting to bully an adult, what might he be doing to his peers? To defend bullying behavior is irresponsible.

Second, why the extremes?  The response seems to suggest that it is not possible to enjoy childhood in all its spontaneity and innocence if you curb or correct a child’s behavior in any way. Why on earth not? It is a parent’s responsibility to do so, not only for the sake of those who come into the child’s path, but for the child’s own health and safety.    


Thankfully, this has not posed a great issue for my son so far, but I have seen the seeds being sown and it saddens me.  The child who yells “no” at my son for simply approaching him as he plays with something. The child who threw a ball at my son’s head (a soft one, but still) and knocked him down when my son was only twelve months old. His mother did intervene, but with only a mild verbal remonstrance that was not appropriate to the situation. I realize this is common behavior for young children, but they also need to know this kind of aggression (particularly toward younger, smaller children) is not acceptable. 

The response shows a great deal of empathy for the child, but no call to responsibility for the parent. I, too, feel for this child. Clearly, he is acting out in order to get the attention of an unresponsive father. The responder says he hated restraint as a child. This is part of growing up: the push and pull of a child’s growing independence and a parent’s slow loosening of control as a child ages and becomes capable of greater responsibility. However, children also need rules and guidance from parents; it gives them a sense of safety and security in a chaotic world. They have an innate knowledge that discipline, when implemented with patience and compassion, is a labor of love for the parent. It is much easier (in the short run, anyway) to do what this father does and ignore the behavior or ask the child to stop, but fall short of enforcing consequences. It seems to me that the father’s friend should speak out, especially for the sake of his friend’s son.

J LeBlanc is a former high school teacher who resides in Lebanon, N.H. She is currently taking a break from teaching to stay home with her 8-month-old son.

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