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Shannon Casas: No matter the method, disciplining children is hard
Shannon Casas high res

When I was about 7 years old, I slammed my friend’s finger in my bedroom door. Hard. She had lied to me, and she chased me through our house as we argued. I don’t remember what she lied about. But I remember the whooping my mom gave me afterward.

Maybe I’m the last generation of kids who got whooped with a belt. Maybe not.

Corporal punishment has fallen out of style, but that’s not necessarily true in the South where generations of adults still remember paddlings in school and the “spare the rod, spoil the child” adage.

The Times has published numerous stories about parents charged with abuse after allegedly beating their children. The latest of those stories received comments ranging from “SOME parents DO NOT need children!” to “Leave these parents alone. Let parents discipline their kids.” 

Of course there is a line between tough discipline and abuse. But where that line is drawn is a source of heated debate.

In my house, of course, there’s no corporal punishment — not that I decided it was wrong, but the state did. As a foster mom, I must follow those rules. I can’t spank them, much less whip them with a belt. 

For toddlers, one of the recommended ways to discipline is “time-in.” This is similar to time-out, except the parent stays with the child.

When I stay with a child in time-out, this is what it looks like:

  1. Child gets out of chair, again, and again, and again.

  2. Child whines. Child argues so hard his little face gets all red.

  3. Child begins to spit on the floor. 

  4. Child screams at an ear-piercing pitch.

  5. Child begins throwing things across the room.

  6. Child does whatever else child can think of to push my buttons.

Steam begins pouring out of my ears. Forget time-in, I need a time-out.

I think most parents know discipline is best administered with a cool head rather than in the midst of a tantrum, when a child is screaming and chucking toy cars across the room.

If I had been parenting my own children all along, I wonder what that might have looked like in the middle of a tantrum. There have certainly been times I wanted to spank a child. 

For all the rules and requirements of foster parenting, one advantage it has given me is training. For most parents, the hospital just lets them take their tiny, needy baby home. 

Hopefully these new parents were raised well, have done some reading and have a support system. But even with all of that, discipline is hard. Even with 40 hours of training plus an additional 15 hours of continuing education each year, discipline is hard.

Children want to figure out where the boundaries are, and it’s not a pretty process. 

And for some kids, it’s a particularly messy process.

We’ve cared for 11 children total. For some, disciplining them with an early bedtime worked like a charm. For others, it was a lot of repetition and patience or trial and error and creativity.

I don’t believe spanking is effective for some children. Maybe it is effective for others. 

My husband and I have known for a long time that what works with one child, doesn’t always work with another. And what works in one situation doesn’t always work in another. 

Sometimes I’m sitting on the floor next to a defiant, screaming child and the best thing for me to do is just let him scream. Sometimes the best thing for me to do is walk away.

Sometimes I’m following a child around the house trying to figure out what I can take away from him that will get his attention.

In the end, we all want to raise our children well. And we could all use a little help to do it.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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