Monday, March 24, 2014

Spanking? No thanks!

The other day I was driving with the radio on. A parent advice show came on so I listened. I don’t know who the speaker was or what the show was called because my radio soon lost reception for that station. One thing the speaker said was, “Now, I am not recommending spanking your young child, but if you do spank make sure your child understands why they are being spanked.” I wanted to call in but it wasn’t a call-in show. To put it mildly, I was appalled and angry. The speaker spoke as an authority and had a captive audience with no space for different perspectives. I have a different perspective!

First I’ll get to the point. I recommend never spanking your child. Don’t spank in anger, and don’t choose to spank while calm. I don’t like hitting as a persuasion method or boundary delivery technique. There, I said it. Now I’ll explain. 

I want to acknowledge how hard it is to be a parent. As a grandpa, I am one step removed from the level of stress parents experience. I am no longer engaged in the day-to-day activity of parenting while trying to maintain the other necessary realms of daily life. I am guessing that everyone at one time or another feels like hitting someone. I know I sometimes felt that way as a parent. The question becomes how to deal with the triggered feeling that often leads to the reaction response of hitting.

The primary learning modality for young children is imitation. They copy from the example of the loved ones around them. It is not a conscious choice to copy though. It is if the children are compelled to copy by some invisible impulse. Imitation is an unconscious method of learning for the young child.

When babies are born, they cannot walk or talk. How they learn to walk and speak is by copying other the human beings in their environment. If they were not around other human beings they would not learn how to walk and speak like a human. (For example the ‘wolf child of Aveyron’). The children also learn many other things from parents through imitation, notably their strategies to deal with frustration and stress. Simply put, spanking teaches the children that hitting is a way to get the message across when they are frustrated.

Boundaries are important for the children. One of the child’s needs is safety and adults have to hold safe boundaries so the children can develop and thrive within those boundaries. There are other ways than spanking or hitting to show the child boundaries. In fact, using hitting as a tool for creating boundaries shows the child that he or she is not safe because if they do certain things they get hit. What an anxious world that creates.

Staying calm and centered and responsive is not easy. Stress sends most of us into our reactive mode and if spanking and hitting is programmed into us from our own childhood, it is very hard to choose non-violent actions. Parenting is a spiritual journey really because we get the chance to look at our own reactiveness and behavior patterns and work on overcoming those. Parenting is really a path. And if we understand that we are participating in the programming of the reaction patterns in our children, maybe that is enough to help us hold back our impulse to spank. Even if we think we are calm and centered and choosing in the moment to apply a spank to get the message across, we are still teaching the child that one hits when others don’t appear to listen.

Along with any practices you take up to maintain your calm and patience, I also suggest thinking in advance of an alternative you can put in place if the time comes. Plan ahead! There are many resources in print (my book Connecting With Young Children for example) and online (Dr. Rick Hanson’s website and the Parenting Beyond Punishment website) to give you ideas for alternative actions and practices for staying in your responsive centered mode. 

Additionally, the parenting ‘expert’ on the radio mentioned that if you do spank, ‘make sure the child understands why they are being spanked.’ Just a minute here. The part of the brain that does ‘executive function,’ that is involved in understanding consequences, cause and effect, and logic, is named the frontal lobes. It is simply not present in the young child. That part of the brain is the last part of the brain to mature and during adolescence it is still undergoing extensive changes. It continues developing until one is almost thirty years old.  Your young child doesn’t have the neurology to understand why they are being spanked.

How do you get a radio show? Maybe I could have one too. In the meantime, I’ll use this newsletter to get the message to you all.

Please be present enough to THINK of an alternative to spanking. Eventually our whole world will be a better place for it. 

This coming Saturday, March 29, from 11am to 3pm, NEW FORM TECHNOLOGY is having their 1st Anniversary Celebration. New Form Technology is involved in a science of the future -  a science that looks at the objective structure of form and tries to find the intention behind the form. One form they are working with extensively is a discovered geometric solid named the 'Chestahedron.' The NFT center in San Carlos, California is an exciting place of creation, design, conversation and research. The anniversary celebration includes demonstrations of research and projects, food and a lecture by Frank Chester on the relationship of form to the human heart. Don't miss this event!
More information about 
New Form Technology at their website.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How to Handle a Home Wrecker (in kindergarten)

Today for some reason I was thinking about Brandi, a 5-year-old girl who was in my kindergarten many years ago. I haven’t seen or heard of her in years and I wonder where she has come to in her life’s journey.

When she was in my kindergarten, Brandi was a ‘fireball.’ She was strong and did not have any extra padding on her bones. Light weight and solid, she moved easily and smoothly. She was very articulate and intelligent. She tended to be one of the last children to arrive each day, and I noticed from the start that Brandi did not have an easy time joining into the play of the other children. A regular occurrence was her arriving to many other children already engaged in play, houses built and imaginations unleashed in various activities. Brandi would look around the room and then walk toward some play activity and so often what happened next was a house knocked over and another child sad. “Steve, Brandi wrecked our house.” I saw that my work was cut out for me because Brandi was very determined to do things her way and if she thought I was trying to intervene she grew angry. She shouted “I can do what I want!”

One morning, Brandi was headed for an elaborate house made out of heavy wooden ‘play stands’ that looked a bit tentative in terms of stability. Another child was laying on the floor just inside the ‘house.’ I thought I needed to be close by to make sure everyone was safe and I watched Brandi’s arms prepare to push over the side of the house. I learned already that explaining to Brandi would not work, so I walked in between Brandi and the house. I said, “We will leave the house in peace.” She tried to get around me and push the wall over.  As calmly and gently as possible, I scooped her up and carried her over to the lunch table and sat down.

She seemed quite angry with me by then and said she was “going back over to knock their wall down.” So I sat her on my lap and held her, firmly but not tightly. I wasn’t angry or triggered. I didn’t squeeze her. I didn’t raise my voice - in fact I didn’t say anything. She squirmed and kicked and told me, “I am going to tell my mom, and she is going to call the police, and they are going to take you away....Let me go so I can knock over their house.” I said to her, only once, “I will not let you knock down their house.”

She was fired up and her muscles were tense for a minute or two, and I kept her in my firm hold. It was a protective use of force - not to hurt, but to keep everyone safe. To me, safety is a primary need for all, and a primary responsibility of all teachers! I wanted the other children to be safe, and I wanted to help Brandi develop other strategies for joining in with the other children. I didn’t want to exclude her from being with us as in ‘time-out.’ That seems like punishment to me. I understood that Brandi was simply using a strategy she had developed to get her needs met, a strategy probably developed by the time she was one-year-old. Strategies become habits when they are successful. So Brandi had found a way that worked in her world to get her needs met. The thing is, that strategy didn’t feel good to the other people involved. 

So my first step in that interaction was to create a boundary, and I represented that boundary. Boundaries are hard. No one likes boundaries. They are what prevent us from getting what we think we want when we want it. And they are where we find out who we are. What we do when we meet a boundary, how we handle the stress and the dissatisfaction tell us something about ourselves.

“Physical and social boundaries are important on the path of a healthy developing sense of self. The self can only find itself when it meets boundaries. It is a boundary when the child has a drive to stand yet cannot yet. It experiences the frustration of being unable, and also what it feels like to push through, to keep trying, and develop a new skill or capacity. This is one type of boundary experience. When he runs toward the curb with no sign of slowing before leaping into the street, and the parent loudly says, “Stop!” That is a boundary. He experiences the concern and love coming from the parent, and his trust in his parent grows, even if his words are complaining. It is the same with social boundaries. We adults must provide boundaries of physical and social safety for the children - and then they can experience our values in this realm, without intellectual explanation, simply by meeting the boundary where play behavior would switch to the realm hurting another.” (from my book, Connecting With Young Children - Educating the Will)

So what happened next. Two minutes went by and we sat quietly together, neither saying anything. Then I saw Brandi exhale and watched her whole body relax. She sat peacefully with me for another minute until she asked if she could go and play now. Off she went, cooperatively engaged in play with the others. About five minutes later Brandi came back over and hugged me and said, “Steve, I love you.”

When young children are helped to develops habits of connecting with others that work for both parties involved, it opens the way for the gradual discovery and eventual recognition that there are other human beings in the world who also have needs and desires and feelings. The young child has only a beginning awareness of self, yet it is a self that is the center of the universe for them. As teachers and parents, we can offer the children tools for a human way of relating that can be taken up more and more consciously as they get older, as well as boundaries in social and physical realms that create safety.

Brandi found a social boundary, kicked and screamed at it, and then relaxed in the security of it. She found herself there, at the boundary, and she found and recognized the loving guidance of her kindergarten teacher, me.

I want to hear from you - what challenges do you need help with, what questions are you struggling with?

P.S. Gently yet firmly helping young children to experience boundaries is important for their own development, and to create an environment of safety for them. What do you think about the experience I described? Let me know.