How To Discipline Your Child Correctly

November 6, 2013

By all rights, this post should be blank.

There’s been a furor lately around the question of when you’re allowed to yell at your child. Never, it turns out. A study released in September found that yelling at kids was just as bad as hitting them.

This whole thing reminds me of a quote from Erma Bombeck. “I read one psychologist’s theory that said, “Never strike a child in your anger.” When could I strike him? When he is kissing me on my birthday? When he’s recuperating from measles? Do I slap the Bible out of his hand on Sunday?”

All these revelations about child-rearing tie your hands somewhat.

Acceptable methods of discipline still include, as of the last time I checked:
-Sighing audibly.
-Using all three of your child’s names.
-Turning this car around, right now.
-Making that face.
-Seriously, I’m going to turn this car around.

I have no experience with child-rearing, except from being on the child end. And the more I read about it, the more I dread the parenting end. Between getting my embryo into an elite preschool and keeping him out of pictures with the attorney general of Maryland, I imagine I will have my hands full. And now yelling is off the table?

Up until this point most of my information about how to raise your child came from a book of psychology that I found around the house as a young child and read cover to cover. It came in handy in arguments with my mother about how she was rearing me. Whenever she tried to discipline me or send me to bed I would look up at her and solemnly intone, “Mom, I think we’re at risk of falling into a Dependent Love Cycle, a swing on the perilous pendulum between smothering and neglect.”

My folks were generally progressive when it came to parenting. I could tell that my parents were upset if they used my full name. If they were bellowing for “Alexandra Attkisson Petri” to get down from there right now or put that back immediately, then, clearly, it was bad. That, I thought, was the whole point of having a middle name. It let you know when you had done something wrong. There was little shouting. When it came to discipline, we mainly followed the WASP approach of silent disappointment and awkward dinners where you could hear the forks clinking.

Still, at least they had yelling in their repertoire of theoretical punishments. I cringe at the prospect of ever becoming a parent, by which time the articles will probably announce that even Silently Frowning At Your Child To Indicate That His Behavior Is Not Quite What You Hoped will stunt his growth in unforeseeable ways. “NO EMOTICONS! Those can be ambiguous!” Science will add. “No Time Outs — it makes your child feel unwanted for a period of time! No frowning!” This is already starting, in some parenting circles, where they urge you to “try and say yes” and “put the relationship first.” This all seems very complicated. Is this where we’re headed? If so, how will we ever produce comedians and blues singers, whose later success is often contingent on their prolonged discomfort in early life?

The arsenal of tools available to parents who wanted to discipline their children used to be much more extensive.


Obviously, this is a good progress. I do not advocate a return to the days when children were seen but not heard, because they were too busy cleaning William Blake’s chimney and starring in Dickens novels. We are more civilized than we were.

Still, I wonder about the future. Now I cringe whenever new advice about parenting comes out, although not as much as I shudder when the scientists emerge to flip-flop again over whether coffee and red wine are good for you.

Parenting and Being A Woman are two things that for centuries people used to just sort of do and now it turns out, they are cut-throat competitions from which no one is allowed to emerge entirely intact. You did something wrong! You forgot to play classical music to your womb! You yelled! You made the mistake of sending your child to a day care that uses those tiny chain gang child-leashes. And now your child is Ruined Forever, and it’s All Your Fault, and also you have Failed As A Woman, Because Instead of Having All Of It, You Have Only Had Some Of It!

Meanwhile, if their stories are to be believed, our parents’ and grandparent were either bicycling through their neighborhoods uphill both ways in blinding snowstorms to deliver newspapers if they wanted to eat, or eating grass and wandering about unsupervised, with latch-keys. In either case, they turned out fine. But fine isn’t good enough. Fine won’t get your offspring into that magical place where all good children are sent to be pelted with gold and turn into bankers! If only you hadn’t yelled at Susie on that bleak Thursday in the airport! Everyone might be better-adjusted, and we might not be in the sad place where now we find ourselves. Or something.

I hope this prohibition on yelling at your children does not spread to a ban on sending them emails written in all caps, or all communication with my family will swiftly cease.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.
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Alexandra Petri | November 6, 2013