Now the real work begins – the toddler years.
I have been thinking about discipline a lot recently, as my daughter moves from the baby stage towards the toddler years.
Up until now it has been all about changing nappies and feeding and trying to encourage sleep - all gargantuan tasks at times, but simple in their own way. Dirty, make clean. Hungry, give food. Tired, put to bed. Simple. Not easy, but simple. And with immediately measurable results.
Now, however, the real work begins. The complicated stuff. The rearing: The formation of character, the imposition of boundaries, the cultivation of confidence. And if I get it wrong, the consequences will be borne by my daughter. The responsibility is staggering.
This was brought home to me recently when I bumped into an acquaintance who was telling me about a child that her three-year-old daughter had taken a shine to at pre-school. "Totally spoiled" the acquaintance told me. "But no wonder. She is let run riot in public and never chastised when she hits another kid or takes their toys. I see the mother just standing there as she misbehaves. And the way she lets the child talk to the Au Pair is horrendous. Horrible brat. No discipline. No manners."
It is terrible, of course, to talk about a small girl like that. It isn’t her fault that she isn’t taught how to show respect, how to share, or not to hit other children. And God knows we shouldn’t judge as there could be any number of reasons behind the mother’s perceived lack of discipline but the fact is that the little girl is the one who will suffer. No one will want their kids to have play dates with her. Life will be more difficult for her as she grows up as she hasn’t been taught how to work with others.
A book just published in Sweden looks at this whole issue and it is causing quite a furore. In ‘How The Children Took Power’, author, psychiatrist and father of six David Eberhard claims that since the country banned smacking in 1979, parents have also become less inclined to discipline their children verbally. This, he argues, coupled with parental guilt in a culture where both parents are very much encouraged to work outside the home, has led to the creation of a whole generation of brats with no manners.
Mothers, he says “still haven’t the courage to resist the culture, so they go to work despite believing that it damages the children. They then over-compensate by giving the child everything outside of that and letting them decide everything. I believe that damages the child much more than sending them to pre-school does.”
I don’t know if I agree with the whole blame the mother’s working/guilt thing, but I do agree with Eberhard’s belief in the necessity for parental authority.
"There's no scientific evidence whatsoever that an authoritarian upbringing is harmful to kids," he said. "You can take command in the family. The family is not a democracy."
Since I have become a parent, I have been mentally compiling a list of children that I like, both in the real world and the virtual world of celebrity, so I can learn from their parents. All of the children on the list have one thing in common – parents who are quite strict and good manners. By strict, I don’t mean they smack, or shout a lot, or don’t have a laugh with the kids, but they are firm. Decisive. What they say goes.
Take my favourite celebrity children for example. The Beckhams. They are always well-behaved and well-mannered and both David and Victoria are quite proud of the fact that they are strict with their children, and intent on teaching them manners.
"Even my two-year-old daughter says 'please' and 'thank you,'" David said recently in an interview. Adorable.
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