One of the biggest challenges of attachment parenting is letting go of old ideas. Some of these ideas are so accepted in our society that we don't ever stop to question them.
What sort of ideas?
- That we have a right to expect children to do whatever we want, whenever we want.
- That we have a right to use any means to get children to do what we want them to do.
- That if we don't use tactics like spanking, slapping or other types of physical pain to control children, most other controlling tactics (time outs, taking beloved items, etc.) are therefore "gentle."
- That the best way to teach children is to punish them.
- That our needs and wants are automatically more important than theirs.
- That "effective" discipline will give us instant control of our children whenever we want, without question or complaint.
I want you to imagine something for a minute. Imagine someone asked you to teach someone from another part of the world about our culture. Imagine you were asked to teach our manners, language, customs and lifestyle to someone who had never been to our country or to anywhere like this, someone who grew up in a culture radically different from ours.
Now imagine this person was eating dinner with you and started to eat with his hands. How would you teach him how to eat like an American? Would you gasp and act horrified, and talk to him disapprovingly? Would you slap his hands? Would you send him to the stairs or take away his dinner?
Of course not. You'd smile and show him how to eat. Maybe he'd need a lot of reminding if he'd eaten with his hands his whole life. Maybe sometimes you'd lose patience and wish he'd remember, but I'm guessing you would not scream at him, hit him, shame him or try to figure out something bad to to do to teach him to remember.
Here's another one. Imagine you and your husband are at a friend's house, having dinner. Your husband turns to you and says, "It's time to go." You are in the middle of a conversation with your friend and say, "I'm not ready to leave yet." Your husband looks at you sternly and says, "It's time to go NOW." When you protest, he grabs your arm, glares at you and hisses threats in your ear.
As a society, we have one way we treat strangers, one way we treat loved ones, and one way we treat children. Surprisingly, the way we treat our most vulnerable, innocent and dependent people is often the worst of anybody.
Next time you're trying to get your child to do something, stop and think about how you would treat a stranger in this situation and how you'd like a loved one to treat you.
There are times we need our kids to follow rules, cooperate, act better and do what we want. Let's not forget that we still have an obligation to treat all human beings with basic respect, though, even little ones.
An earlier version of this article first appeared in my Mankato attachment parenting column at Attachment Parenting 101: Letting go of parenting assumptions.
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