She is in her 70s, but thanks to her close relationship with her children and grandchildren, Linda Lim often muses on parenting now and how it was back then. For our series Blast From The Past, she writes today about her thoughts and experiences on disciplining children.
Of late I have found myself browsing bookshops for a book with guidelines for disciplining children. I feel I need to get this book (many copies, if you please) to parents who seem completely lost at how to properly raise their children. Call me old fashioned, but there is so much misbehaviour among children today.
Who’s The Boss?
Recently, I witnessed a five-year-old boy throwing a tantrum in the aisle of a supermarket when his mother refused to get him what he wanted. He lay on the floor refusing to budge, screaming at the top of his voice. His parents, in their 30s, were visibly embarrassed but did not know what to do.
They tried to cajole him but to no avail. The little boy continued to vent his anger unperturbed by the shoppers nearby. I thought to myself ‘a smack on his bottom would do the trick’. But in that country, the parents can be charged for child abuse. Finally, the parents caved in and he got what he wanted. Peace was restored but what happens the next time the boy does not get what he wants?
On another occasion, my family and I were seated next to a family of 4 at a fast food food restaurant. The children were aged between 5 to 7 years old. They talked loudly, fidgeted a lot and when the father came back with the food, they acted like they had not eaten for a week . There was not a word of thanks to their father. The kids chomped loudly as they devoured their food, dropping litter on the floor. It was sad to see the parents unmoved by these bad habits and lack of manners.
Last week at a tea party at a friend’s daughter’s house, my friend’s grandchildren, all below the age of ten, showed us their true colours. They had two maids to look after them when they parents, both professionals, were at work. My friend, who stayed with them after her husband had passed away, was told not to interfere with the upbringing of the children. What a ghastly mistake that was. The grandchildren were not only rude to their maids but also to their grandmother. The children were very cute but their cuteness was lost in their unbecoming behaviour. My friend was clearly stressed but her hands were tied. I need to buy that book for this couple too.
Good, old-fashioned discipline
And what of my own brood? Well into the 7th decade of my life, my three children, now in their thirties and forties were brought up with the adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. Most parents of that age were firm perpetuators of that rule. Yes, we used the cane. When the cane was not used, it was hung at a prominent corner, a visible deterrent to unacceptable behaviour. Truth be told, the cane was not used that often, and even when used, it was mild caning. There were more threats than the actual usage of the cane; but the cane served its purpose.
Today, psychologists tell us it is wrong to use the cane. It would have repercussions on the children in the future. I beg to differ. Short of blowing my own trumpet, I attest to the fact that my children, now adults, are far from suffering any repercussions. In fact, my elder son who studied abroad once told his friends that the cane was used when he was naughty. His British friends gasped in disbelief and told him that I could have ended up up in jail. My son proudly told them he owed his present success to his upbringing.
Friends who belong to my age group also have no qualms about using the cane. In fact one of my colleagues had gone overboard – she had 5 different canes in the house of varying lengths and thickness. They were used according to the severity of misbehaviour. She had 4 boisterous sons who were always up to mischief. Those canes helped her manage their antics and pranks. Today the 4 boys are successful young adults and in turn, they remind their children how their parents methods of discipline succeeded in moulding their character.
But today as I look at my grandchildren and how they are being disciplined, I have finally conceded that there are other successful ways of disciplining children, aside from the cane.
In this new light, my methods seem so archaic, but at that time I knew no better.
When I visited my nephew in England, we went out for dinner. While waiting for the food to arrive his 6-year-old son started to whine. When the food finally arrived he started to whine again. My nephew calmly told his son to put his coat on as they were going for a walk. Fifteen minutes later they came back. The little boy ate his food without a whimper and was about to whine again when the father gently asked him if he would like to go for another walk. The boy declined, and was back to his perfect behaviour. This curious Aunty asked her nephew what had ensued. With a twinkle in his eye, my nephew said “we had a father and son talk”. He did not reveal the content of that talk, but boy was I impressed with this mode of disciplining children.
On a trip to Phuket for a holiday, our group consisted of a couple in their in their late forties and their son, 6-year-old Trevor. Throughout the journey he never misbehaved. His parents used the reward system in disciplining him.
Everytime the child behaved well, he was given merit points which the mother noted in a small note book and when he was naughty he was given demerit points. At the end of the week, he would be rewarded if he had more merit points. It could be dinner at his favourite fast food restaurant or permission to buy something. If there are many demerit points he would lose his privileges like not being able to watch his favourite tv program.
Trevor was on his best behaviour. It was a pleasure to see how this system was administered. On hindsight, I would have used this method had I known of it earlier.
Spare the rod, but not the discipline
My own children also do not use the cane. My daughter and her husband send the children to “chill” in the bedroom if they are naughty. After some time they are allowed to come out but they have to apologise for their wrongdoing. They are told why they are sent to chill in their room. The parents reason with them. If they refuse to eat, the food is taken away from them and no other food is given. They are only allowed water in place of the food they rejected. After some time they learn the pangs of hunger.
And woe betide if they are rude. The parents sit down and explain to them that this is not tolerated at all and punishment meted accordingly. Sometimes my daughter acts like the tiger mum, but her methods work. I must say kudos to my daughter and her husband, who are strict disciplinarians.
Consistency is key
My son and his wife send their 4-year-old to the naughty corner if she has tantrums. Somehow this works wonders and my grand daughter hates to go to the naughty corner where she is left alone facing the corner. No one can rescue her from that dreaded place. Other times when she misbehaves they will count to three … one, two, and by the time they say 3, she is back to good behaviour. I think her kindergarten is also helping to instil good behaviour. The kindergarten emphasises good manners, please and thank you and other basic etiquette. In the kindergarten they are taught to tidy up after playing which she also does at home. There is no cane used, but other methods of discipline and instilling values. Sayings like “Sharing is caring ” and “Never break your promise “ are for them to live by.
Tailoring the Discipline
All said and done, parents need to explore which methods of disciplining work best with their children. Each child is different and so methods of discipline must be tailored to the child’s needs. The bottom line is as parents, they need to deal with the children and instil good values. They are duty bound to impart good values to their children, so that in the future they will be good adults. And when they become parents, they too will impart good values to their children. And so life goes on.
I end this with a quote taken from a parents’ prayer, ”O God make me a better parent. May I never punish them for my own selfish satisfaction or to show my power. Bless me with bigness to grant them all their reasonable requests and to deny them the privileges I know will do them harm.”
By Linda Lim