Dear Imprudence: Inappropriate Discipline
Content note: This Dear Imprudence discusses the use of hitting to ‘discipline’ children.
Dear Prudie’s Monday livechat featured a doozy of a question:
Q. Discipline: My wife and I have been married for eight years, and we have three wonderful children, two girls and a boy. While we agree on most everything, the one thing that really causes trouble is our son, specifically how to discipline him. He is 6 years old and has mild CP and also very high functioning autism. Now my wife thinks that because of his “special needs” he should not only treated differently, but also disciplined differently. I say that consistency is the key and that the Bible says to “spare the rod, and spoil the child.” Who’s right?
Let me make this answer simple, Prudence:
Neither of you is right, Discipline. There is absolutely no reason to hit children, ever.
There you go! That was easy. Sadly, it’s not what Emily Yoffe said.
A: I hope your son’s special needs will be a special gift to your entire family and help you rethink your approach to discipline. I absolutely agree on the need for consistency, especially with a child dealing with autism. But all your children should have consistent, compassionate care, not consistent smacks to the backside. (And the Bible says lots of things I’m sure you don’t take literally.) Lack of corporal punishment does not mean you allow your children to run wild; it means showing them there are better ways to get people to behave. Please talk to the professionals helping you with your son about the most effective ways to discipline him. I’ve recommended the work of Haim Ginott before, but please read one of his books. Even if you don’t use all of his methods, he will help you see the world through the eyes of your children.
Let’s break this down, starting with the first sentence, which made me gag violently. I could really do without classifying disabled children as ‘special,’ period, and especially not as ‘special gifts.’ Disabled children are not ‘gifts.’ They are human beings. It doesn’t surprise me to see Prudence using this kind of language. After all, it’s very widespread and commonly believed, but it irks me nonetheless. She’s widely read, she has a big platform, and she has the power to influence her readers and make them rethink the way they approach disability, simply by not engaging in disability tropes and pushing back on commonly believed narratives. Especially in this case, where it seems pretty clear to me that the use of quotes in the original letter is intended in a snide, spiteful way.
Prudence’s next section, condemning the use of corporal punishment, is pretty solid. I’m well aware that my blunt approach would probably be less than ideal if the goal is actually to convince people to stop hitting their children and calling it ‘discipline,’ it just happens to be one of the things in the world that makes me incendiarily angry and I really don’t know how to push back on it in any way other than incoherent rage. I did like that she specifically used the word ‘compassionate’ in her commentary.
Finally, a recommendation of a book by a (to my knowledge) nondisabled child psychologist. I know Ginott’s books are very popular, but I find it interesting that Prudence would say the letter writer can ‘see the world through the eyes of your children’ by reading a book written by an adult who doesn’t share lived experiences with one of Discipline’s children. Why not recommend works by people with autism and cerebral palsy? And why rely on adults to tell you how children think, feel, and view the world where there are plenty of children around you can interact with directly?
Commenting note: FWD unilaterally condemns the use of corporal punishment on humans of all ages. Any comments defending it/suggesting it is ok in ‘certain circumstances’ will not be approved, so do us a favour and don’t submit them.