Although I don’t watch This Morning (sorry), parenting forums have been buzzing with today’s interview by Bea Marshall. Bea is a parenting coach – I expect she tells parents what to do rather than offering encouraging words like ‘you got this’ and ‘you are definitely not screwing up your child’. Anyway, Bea doesn’t think children should be punished as ‘any form of punishment puts the parent in a position of power over their child’. Wait, what?! Isn’t that the point of being a parent? Aren’t we supposed to be the ones in charge? Surely I’m not the only one who uses the line ‘If you don’t like my rules, then get a job and a family and make your own rules’.
What is wrong with having power over your children as long as you use the power to guide them and help them turn out into happy, caring, responsible adults? My daughter is eight and my son is four. I cannot imagine letting them decide whether they should do their homework, see the dentist or what time they should go to bed. I am an adult. With that comes years of wisdom and learning. I have learned some things the hard way, which everyone must go through. But some things have been learnt through listening to the recommendation of professionals. For instance, I know how important sleep is to children’s growing bodies and minds. Letting my kids get six or seven hours of sleep a night is not going to do them any favours.
But I am not saying that we should blindly follow childcare experts. I sincerely believe in a parent’s intuition. Many of us are taught to ignore our hearts, but there is something that tells many of us what is best for our own child. Obviously if your instinct says to give your six-month old some Coca-Cola, then maybe ignore those instincts. I also don’t believe we should be hitting our children or punishing them in any way that is humiliating or physical. Kids need to feel safe and loved at home, more than anywhere else. A parent should be the one person who you know will always love you and take care of you and never inflict harm or pain on you.
Yes, I punish my children. If they hit, they go to the timeout step to calm down and then we talk it out. If my daughter starts playing with her nail polish to use it to write all over notebooks and then spills it all over her bedroom floor, then nail polish gets take away. If the children sneak some of the M&Ms and Kit Kats from their father’s birthday cake, they don’t get dessert that evening. Children need to learn that there will be consequences for their actions. If my son spills his milks, I let him know that accidents happen and that we all drop and spill things. If my daughter loses her new watch, I inform her that we have all lost something at least once in our lives. Everything can be replaced.
But I believe that it is important for parents to offer boundaries. Our children are looking at us for guidance on how to act. Yes, I know a few children who very easily do homework and go to bed when they’re tired without being asked twice. But many children need to be told not to grab the chocolate bar from the grocery store and sneakily stuff it in their pocket. Many children need to be told that we need to share, ask for things in a polite manner and eat all our vegetables (and a million other things). Raising children isn’t just about making them happy. It is about making them into kind, considerate adults who care about society as a whole.
Bea’s own children are 11 and 10. It is too early to determine how growing up with minimal restrictions has worked. They may grow up to be avant-garde artists or end up curing cancer. Or they might have plain jobs and just be amazingly happy and content people. Then again, they may turn out to be narcissistic adults who have little concern over others as they have been brought up thinking that their needs and wants are more important than anyone else’s. Only time will tell.