Saturday, May 3, 2008

Exploring Gentle Discipline

I was raised in an authoritarian household where my father's word was law. He prided himself "breaking our will/spirit" and was not above spanking, some of which I think may have bordered on abuse. Of course, I know my father loves me but I often wonder how a person who loved me could cause me so much pain, anxiety and fear. To this day, I refuse to sit diagonally from my father in the backseat of of the car because I remember being backslapped for some misdeed that, incidentally, I don't even remember. I hardly remember any of the reasons why I received spankings but . . . all I know is that I want to do it differently with my child.

I don't know how many of you are familiar with African or African-American ways of raising children but in our culture it is extremely important to honor your family. If I were to throw a fit in the grocery store the way I see some children doing, it would definitely merit me a warning glance and a spanking when I got home. The older I got, the glance was enough to put me back in line. You do not embarrass your parents or else. Most AA's (including dh) that I know now would laugh me to scorn for even thinking about not spanking my child, not yelling, not punishing, etc. . . I mean, even when I see children acting out in the store, my immediate and reflexive response is "someone needs to snatch up that child." This is the culture I grew up in.

However, gentle discipline seems to me a way to allow children a great deal of freedom to develop into who they will be. I don't know, yet, how comfortable I am with all that freedom. Let me try to explain and I hope no one gets offended. In a society where Black people make up the minority, it is not always the best situation for a child to feel entirely free. It is my responsibility as a parent to make sure that my son/daughter knows how and when and how fast to cut out undesirable behavior. I will refer you to that little girl who was put in handcuffs in Florida for acting out . . . not to get into racial issues but I highly doubt that if the girl had been white, it would have been handled that way. Long story short, children of color are treated more harshly by this society and given less leeway. That's a fact. I mean, working at predominantly White schools and then at predominantly Black/Latino schools, it's painfully obvious. Do I do a disservice to my child by practicing GD--no punishment/rewards, etc . . . when I know that at times I will really need my child to get in line immediately?

I like that GD goes against the whole will-breaking thing that happened in my life but I want to raise children who can function well in this society? Does this make sense? I hope I haven't stepped on any toes. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

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