The Third Problem with “Positive Parenting”

                Next, this is what the “new punishers” call offering choices: “Which do you want to do first—brush your teeth or take a bath?” This is a word game too, I’m afraid. I understand this is designed to include the child in the decision making process, at least to make the child feel as though he is, but it’s not really a choice, and at some point, the child may figure it out and trust may be compromised, the same as with punishments. It’s “positive” only in the sense that having your parents lie to you when you’re little is more positive than being beaten by them. Suppose I said to my wife “Which do you want to do first – vacuum the living room or clean out the litter box?” Would she feel I’ve ‘included her in the decision making process,’ and be glad to share in the responsibility of planning our evening, or would I wind up unconscious on the living room carpet under a pile of dirty kitty litter?  These sorts of “choices” are offensive attempts to trick, not the ‘trust building’ exercises we might wish them to be.

                 What follows in the article is a series of transgressions and the non-physical punishment to match, all of which would only ever work if the child is willing, and if not, I repeat: it’s a recipe for physical punishment (or at least a fight).

                 It needs to be said that none of the goals of discipline are bad in themselves; I have no objection to the things we want to happen when discipline seems to be called for, but that’s sort of obvious. Of course the goals are acceptable. Abuse is in the method, in the matter of choice. Hyperbole being my forte, I offer an extreme illustration: sex is a lovely thing; lovemaking is not intrinsically wrong or evil. If I wish a joyful interlude of lovemaking for myself and a partner, this is an acceptable goal, a pleasantry for all. But if I make a rule about it? If I say to my partner, “Sweetie, you need some loving, it’s good for you, everyone needs it,” that’s all well and good, but if I make it a rule and make it happen, If my partner doesn’t want it but I unilaterally decide it’s a good thing and force it? That is called rape, of course. And so it is with discipline. The goal is good and rational, it seems to go towards a healthy person and a healthy society, but if we force it, if we make it happen – then it has become something else. Again, abuse is in the method, in the matter of choice.

                After all that, it still needs to be said: most of the damage of punishment and abuse is not the physical damage, so if that list of “non-physical disciplinary measures” works, it works by damaging the kids. Don’t worry about that though, it doesn’t work, not by itself. It only works because it’s backed up by the other kind of discipline.

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