EVERY time I see an article on respectful parenting there is always at least one person (more often more than one) that pipes up with the assertion that if children are not smacked or punished they won’t know not to run into the road and will end up being hit by a car. Though usually it’s written much more rudely than that. I have no idea why this one thing comes up so often, but every time I see it I am baffled. It is said with such conviction that anyone would think that we have an epidemic of unruly unpunished kids running onto the road daily. Yet, I know lots of children who are parented respectfully and I’m yet to see any that sprint for the first available road they come across. My own kids know that the road is dangerous and never to cross without an adult. Shockingly, it is possible to teach kids things without inflicting fear or pain.
Some people seem to have the impression that not punishing kids means letting them do whatever they like and never preventing them from doing anything. Let’s get some things straight…
- Of course you would stop your child from running onto the road if they were about to! No, respectful parents aren’t arguing that you should try to start a discussion with them instead of preventing them from running in front of a car. You would of course stop them first and then talk to them about why that’s not a good idea.
- Smacking is NOT the only way (or most effective way) to get your message across. Your message is lost and replaced with fear of you instead. If your child is now afraid of being punished more than they understand the importance of road safety, then how do you know what they will do when you’re not around? When they know you won’t punish them?
- If you want kids to know you’re serious. Talk to them seriously and explain. They are not stupid. People seem to think that respectful parenting is ok for some things but to get kids to really know you’re serious, you have to smack them. But, if you generally give your kids freedom to make their own choices where they safely can, then when you do have to set a limit they are more likely to know that it must be important. If you say no to every little thing, kids start to tune it out. Better to save it for times when it’s really needed.
- Children aren’t born with an innate need to run in front of oncoming cars. By the way that people talk you would think that they were. Nope. They actually don’t want to hurt themselves. They do have poor impulse control though, and they are sometimes forgetful. Children will make mistakes, whether you punish them or not. I know when I make a mistake I’d rather talk about it with someone than be punished. Punishment shifts the focus from learning from your mistake to being resentful and learning to avoid punishment in the future.
- The fact that so many people say they have to smack their kids for running into the road also tells me that kids who are punished do still do this. So I’m not sure why people are arguing it works anyway?
- If a child is too young to understand, the answer is not to inflict pain or punishment. It’s to supervise them until they do understand. When you’re near a road you stay close. When you’re walking through a car park you hold their hand or carry them. You still explain to them but you take extra measures until they understand. Simple.
The point is, there is always time for respectful parenting. Not using punishment does not mean doing nothing. I think people bring up this running into the road scenario in an attempt to say that sometimes you don’t have time to be respectful. But stopping a child from running on the road if you’re in that situation is respectful. You just don’t hit them for their mistake afterwards. You allow them the basic courtesy of talking through what happened and explaining why you won’t let them do that.