Two news items of late have an interesting-- and completely wrong-headed--idea in common:
That you can teach children what not to do by doing it to them.
One came from a workshop participant whose keen eye noticed this absurdity:
A Kindergarten bully had his teacher so frazzled that she arranged for a prison-camp-style punishment: she lined up his 24 classmates and had them hit or slap him at least twice.
I have no idea what kind of trouble this kid caused in the classroom. Maybe he was just irritating to the teacher because he didn't follow directions. Maybe he truly was a bullying menace.
He's 6 years old. There's a better way to discipline.
Did the teacher stop and think about the irony of what she did? Using her authority and power to arrange the group beating of one of the students she was charged with teaching? In order to make the point that this was not the kind of behaviour that is acceptable in polite society--or a classroom.
She's been fired in the consequent outrage. But these two "parenting experts", fundamentalists with an idea that God, through the Bible, demands that we use corporal punishment to "train up a child in the way he should go", are still going strong with their ministry:
They advocate applying the switch (a whip-like thin branch of willow) to children as young as 6 months. Hair-pulling of infants who bite during nursing as well. They call it obedience training.
Here's another look at their practices:
There's an obvious, inherent contradiction in these practices. What they reveal is an immature "authority" who, feeling powerless or overly-powerful, abuse that authority and impose punishment directly opposing the principles they purport to embody. They also reveal, in my opinion, a complete misunderstanding of the human spirit as embodied in a child.
A child is born without a store of knowledge to direct their behaviour- thus they are constantly processing experience and sensory and emotional inputs and adjusting their behavior to accommodate.
What we demonstrate to them must be consistent with a loving and mature authority-- we can guide the behaviour gently, but firmly, without condemning or humiliating the child.
STEP discipline is based on this wise and loving attitude as imagined by Alfred Adler. Not only does this approach bring about a loving and warm relationship between parent and child, it gives us the opportunity to teach children the kind of behaviours that serve them well as adults-- responsible, disciplined, cooperative.