No punishment for the little child
Very often parents punish a little child for doing something they feel he should not do. Punishment is out of place until a child is old enough to understand cause and effect and old enough to take some responsibility for what he does. It only bewilders, disturbs, and upsets a little two- or three-year-old. With the little pre-school child, as with the toddler, it is still better to turn his attention to something he may do. This works surprisingly well. Parents will not spoil the little child by turning his attention away from things he may not do, for they are not giving in but are teaching him what he may do.
With little children it is often better to make statements rather than commands. Instead of telling three-year-old Billy, “Go and wash your hands,” he is more likely to do it promptly and willingly if you say, “Lunch is almost ready. It is time to wash your hands now.” A command is so often a challenge to a small child to say “No.” Nor is it wise or valuable to reason with a little child. It is all right to tell him why something must be done, but reasoning is above his level. If mother’s manner is friendly but firm and gives to the child the feeling that “This is what we do now,” the youngster will usually do what is asked.
Children are frequently scolded and punished when they do not even realize that they have done something wrong. This can be avoided if parents are consistent in setting a pattern of behavior for the child so that he knows what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable, behavior. This is his only way of learning. A child must have the opportunity to learn that when mother says it is bedtime, she means just that. Bedtime itself may vary. It may usually be seven o’clock, but on a special occasion a youngster may be allowed to stay up later. He must learn, however, that when mother says it is bedtime he must go to bed. Clean hands before meals should mean clean hands every day, not clean hands today but dirty ones tomorrow, simply because mother is busy and doesn’t bother.
It is wise to have as few rules as possible, for too many rules hedge in a family. But parents should remain firm about those things they feel a child really must do. It is possible to be firm but quite matter-of-fact and friendly at the same time. A “these are the things we do in our house” attitude is usually well accepted by youngsters. Long arguments and much discussion over matters of routine are not desirable, nor are frequent explanations of the same requirement desirable.
It is a good idea to set limits before undesirable situations arise. Children can be taught that they may play actively in their own room, in the dining room, or in some other room set aside for them, but that they must not jump on the chairs and davenport in the living room. They can learn that they are free to play on the block but not free to go around the corner or cross the street without permission. It is better to set definite known limits, and then allow the child freedom to play as he will within those limits, than continually to come up with something new that he should not have done. The limits set should show responsibility for the child’s safety and for other people’s rights. The freedom given the child within those limits should allow opportunities for developing initiative and creativeness in his play.
A child should not be bribed by his parents. Parents who bribe a youngster are teaching him to bargain off his good behavior. They are also really giving him a tool by which he can, in turn, control them by holding out for more and more.
It is a very different thing to give a child a reward after he has done something well. It is usually best not to offer the reward ahead of time, lest it become very much like a bribe. Whenever possible, the reward should be the natural result of what the child has done well. Mary helped put away her toys so willingly and quickly that there was time for an extra game or story. The whole family helped mother put the house to rights on Saturday, so that they could all go to the park for a picnic lunch. A child may very rightly be rewarded for being courageous when he has had to pay a visit to the doctor or dentist. A little extra treat afterwards helps to build up his morale. Often a parent’s approval or a word of praise is enough reward in itself. Too often parents scold and criticize their children for their failures and mistakes, and too seldom do they encourage and praise them. (Continue below to page 3)