There is not a clear-cut management parallel in this post. Punishment and abuse of children are in the news lately, and this is a completely different, but related slant on the issue.
Recently I was in a supermarket, rolling cart peacefully down the frozen food aisle when I witnessed something disturbing.
A young mother was pushing a cart full of groceries with her son in the seat of the cart, facing her. Evidently, the young man either took exception to something she decided to buy or to something he wanted and she decided not to buy.
As I walked near them, he started to beat her.
I don’t mean a baby slap or anything of that nature. I mean he was throwing his full body weight into punches on her arms and stomach and chest while howling like a banshee.
I was stunned into immobility. Not because a child was having a tantrum in a supermarket; heck, that happens all the time.
No, I was stunned because she accepted his blows as if she was totally used to this kind of treatment from her child. She murmured something about settling down, but other than that, had no reaction other than the pain on her face as she passed by without looking at me. All I could do was pray for her since her body language indicated very clearly that any intervention on my part would have been unwelcome.
What could I have done if she looked at me? Sympathized; perhaps even going over and talking with her son and distracting him from his behavior?
I have written about disciplining your children before, and the boundaries and respect issues inherent in that. It never occurred to me that I needed to go into the physical boundaries you need to set with your children regarding your person.
It occurs to me now.
Children may not hit their parents…EVER. If a child loses control and strikes out at you, your response should be decisive and immediate according to the rules of your house. I can’t make these rules up for you regarding consequences since what worked for me may not work for you, but you need to decide what they are and inform your children accordingly from an early age if possible. And for heaven’s sake, do it before you take them out in public.
It damages your authority and the respect they have for you when there are not consequences for hitting, kicking, biting you, or anything of that nature.
Why is this so important? Because when children lose respect for you and your authority, they no longer feel safe. A child who feels unsafe will become fearful and angry and act out that negative emotion in many ways on you and on other people.
In our house, if you hit a parent, you were in immediate time out until the parent said so and then the child had to give a sincere apology and indicate their understanding that hitting, kicking, biting or harming parents was not allowed. It was serious business and I never had any issues with either child after that conversation or the first time they tried it and received the consequences.
Susan Stiffelman shares some very practical tips on handling an aggressive child, and these techniques work well. Try them.
Expectations and consequences are your major tools for discipline, whether you are dealing with a terrible-two or a terrible-twelve. It is never too late to start constructive rules and procedures that will help your whole family, but it takes work and that very difficult thing called communication.
Is it worth it? You bet!