There are widely divergent views on child training in North America – ranging all the way from a laissez faire attitude (let the child alone and she will figure things out on her own), to the harsh disciplinarian (if you want a child to learn how to behave you need to spank him once a day, and twice on Sundays). Actually, neither extreme can be called child training, both imply that the parents have abdicated from their role as parents to become either neutral observers or the administrators of a punitive law.
Child training means teaching and the teaching needs to begin in the first weeks and months. There is no harm in getting used to explaining to a baby what we expect of her when she is very small. This is a habit that we need to develop early, so that when a child is older we don’t leave our explaining until after she has done something wrong.
Parents in France start by teaching their babies to sleep through the night. They do this simply by learning to discern the sounds a baby makes when he wakes up in the night. We all go through many cycles each night of deep sleep and light sleep where we are awake or almost awake. A newborn does not know how to connect these cycles and if a mother jumps up at every whimper to comfort her child, she is actually hindering the child from learning. If the child’s cry is a cry of distress, then the mother knows the child needs help, but a few little whimpers between sleep cycles are normal. By not running for every whimper, the mother is also teaching the child that parents need sleep, too, they are not just servants who are at their child’s beck and call.
This is part of the essential task of teaching a child that she is not the one in charge, the parents are. As soon as possible, a child should be expected to greet adults when they come to visit and to greet the adults in a home where the family visits. This is good manners, and makes the child more aware that other people matter.
Most of us in North America grew up being ordered to eat everything on our plate and threatened with no dessert if we didn’t. Sometimes we were told about the poor starving children in China who would love to eat what we were leaving on our plate. Today there is an epidemic of obesity in both North America and China, and North American children are still very picky eaters. A better plan is to teach children that they don’t have to clean their plates, but they must eat at least a little of every food on the table. Treats should be limited to once a day, perhaps an after school snack. If this plan is explained and adhered to without exception the child will learn that begging for a treat is useless. (This plan needs to be explained to the grandparents, too.)
A newborn baby understands only his own needs, but small steps such as these make him aware that other people have needs, too. This is child training and much of it can be accomplished without much fuss or stress. The goal is to teach the child that he is not in charge, the parents are. This does not mean that there might not be a need for stronger measures on occasion, but I am convinced that a lot of corporal punishment is simply an attempt to compensate for a lack of child training.
The child who grows up in a home where parents constantly yield to his wishes and whines is going to have a hard time adjusting to real life as an adult. It seems that some people today never really reach adulthood. We are doing our children a favour if we teach them in such a way that they are spared from a life of perpetual spoiled childhood.