Parenting Without Punishing

Chapter 4

A Refuge From Danger, a Place Free From Fear

Children's World Learning Centers, in a recent survey, showed that our number one concern as parents is to keep the children safe. That purpose, indeed, is what homes are fundamentally meant for--not only to keep children safe, but to be sure children feel safe. No one needs reminding that this is a dangerous world. It is a scary world, even for grownups. So it surely can be a terrible and terrifying world to a child. Home may well be the only place in the world--and childhood the only time in life--where a person can feel free of the threat of attack.

Providing these essential rights of safety and security is a sacred trust, betrayal of which can result in the child carrying physical and emotional scars throughout all of life. In his book, Going Home, Thich Nhat Hanh says, "There are so many young people who are homeless. They may have a house to live in, but they are homeless in their hearts."

When the time comes that they venture into the world as adults, there may be little we can do for them. But while they are here as children, we can do the two most important things of all:

(1) provide a home free of hazards, child-proofed and accident-free, and
(2) refrain from instilling fear of being hit, shamed, or humiliated.

The very meaning of home implies protection, a special place for safe nurturing, growing and learning. It is tragic if the child is accidentally harmed. It can be even more disastrous to the child if deliberately hurt by the very people he or she must depend upon for protection. Yet, this is the case in over 90% of American homes--pain (as in spanking) is intentionally inflicted by well-meaning parents determined to "teach lessons."

There is a natural, instinctive contract, the essential civilizing understanding between parent and child, "written" at birth in the unconscious, tribal memory, that parents will protect the child from harm and fright. That contract, that trust, is broken the moment the child is spanked, or otherwise hit, yelled at, or threatened. Home is for protection from attack and fear; if it is not, the child is denied a basic, sacred right, and the parent has failed.

The social contract disintegrates when the security of love and approval and affection is made conditional on pleasing and obeying the parent. When the social contract between parents and children disintegrate, the contract between parent and society breaks down. To see that, we need only read today's paper.

With very little effort, and a little understanding, the risk of harm to children can be greatly reduced. In these chapters we will show how to lessen the likelihood of children being hurt by accident, and how they can be spared the hurts inflicted on them with willful intent by those entrusted to them

The act of punishing shifts responsibility from parent to child. It is neither reasonable nor realistic to order a small child to stay away from the swimming pool, or to spank him when he goes near. It cannot be expected that he can understand the danger. The parents must take action to prevent the child from going near the pool, not make the child shoulder life-or-death responsibility by issuing orders and punishing disobedience.

Too often parents assume their responsibility ends with simply issue orders: "Don't go into that room," "Don't ever touch these sharp knives." "Don't ever play with matches." "Don't run with scissors." Such admonitions place the burden on the child, conveniently allowing the parents to dodge their own responsibility. This is the most common set-up for the tragedies that so often befall children of irresponsible, authoritarian parents.

Young parents have been heard to declare, "We're not going to change our lifestyle, make over the whole house, just because we have a baby." Yet this is precisely what is required unless the baby is to run a high risk of being injured or killed. Parents with that infantile attitude are not yet mature enough for parenthood.

The good news is that the physical changes to the home need only be temporary. As the child grows, new hazards, new precautions arise, as well as other new challenges. (Some say that the constant changes are what make childrearing fascinating--as well as tolerable.) So the role of parent REQUIRES a change in attitudes consistent with the change in responsibilities.

Conscientious, informed and loving parents decide and accept, before the arrival of a new baby, that the childless lifestyle is past, and the house must be literally redesigned and reorganized to accommodate the baby. They understand that without this radical-sounding measure, they are placing the baby, the crawler, the toddler, the pre-schooler, in danger of being accidentally hurt or killed. Anything less is immature and irresponsible parenting.

What is imperative is to examine thoroughly, on hands and knees, every area of the house. (This is exactly what THEY will soon be doing!) For example, the glass figurines on the coffee table can be placed out of sight--or at least out of reach--for a few months. The coffee table itself, with its sharp corners, can be placed in storage, or the corners and edges padded. Mature, responsible parents keep doors to forbidden rooms locked; they keep sharp objects, matches, lighters, poisons, etc., out of reach of little hands. We're talking about mere inconvenience and appear-ances here. For parents, it's time for a value check: Is prevention of life-threatening injuries of highest priority? What is more important?

Hazards To Eliminate: A Home Safety Checklist

1. Falls

2. Burns 3. Suffocation 4. Drowning 5. Cuts 6. Electric Shock 7. Choking, Strangling 8. Bruises, Punctures 9. Poisoning 10. Gunshots 11. Other: More Info: This is but a beginning; it is not a complete list of dangers. In play yard, in autos, on the street and in stores are more situations to prepare for. Complete and expert help can be provided elsewhere. Nothing is more important than finding and heeding it.

FREE CATALOGS for hard-to-find safety products:

Continuing Narrative: Growing without Punishment
We experiment with electrical outlets.

It was in early 60s, before the days when those safety caps for electrical outlets were readily available. Like most parents we had underestimated the children's capacity for curiosity and experimentation, that compelling need to find out everything about the world as fast as possible. "Whatcha doin'?" I asked, happening by the two scientists at work by a baseboard outlet.

A short wire stuck out of one side of receptacle, and Henry held another short wire in his hand. "We're seeing what will happen." Can I play? I asked them. "Sure, Daddy."

"I think we'll need leather gloves for this, and insulated pliers," I said, and we got them. "Now--looks like you wanted to put this second wire in the other hole, and then touch the two wires?"

"Yes!" they replied in excitement.

On the slightest touch the sparks flew and the boys gaped, greatly impressed.

"Anyone else want to try it?" They thought not, and drew back their hands. "I'll do it one more time," I said, and held the wires firmly together. Fiercely sparking fireworks, and a sudden blackout.

"Now what?" Nobody knew. So we talked about wires on electric poles, electrical circuits in the walls, what made lamps light, and finally fuse boxes. They listened, fascinated. Then with flashlight in hand we traipsed down the dusty cellar stairs and opened the fuse box door. There we shutoff the main power switch, compared the blackened fuse with a new one, and made the replacement. The boys took note of how respectfully cautious I was in working with the electrical equipment. "I don't want to touch the wrong things, do I?"

"Oh, no!" they quickly agreed. Returning upstairs, the lights were on again, and I returned to my typewriter. There were no more experiments with electrical outlets. Still, they seemed to be free of fear about things electrical. By the time they reached adolescence, they were doing their own electrical repairs, and even house and barn wiring, always respecting the power of electrical currents. If they ever got shocked, I never heard about it.

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