Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Is hot saucing Ok? — Good Parenting
Dear Dr. Debbie,
Let me tell you about my 2-year-old. He’s my third, and the only boy, so maybe that has something to do with his bad behavior. Here’s one example. He said, “What the h—?” which I admit, might have come from me. But I was so angry to hear him say it that I told him I never wanted to hear it again. He said it again. I squirted liquid soap in his mouth to make my point. He grabbed the bottle from me and said it was, “Yummy” and drank some down.
I’m thinking of using hot sauce next time.
Don’t miss last week’s column When mom goes missing — Good Parenting
Please don’t. That barbaric practice, as well as “washing his mouth out” take parenting education back at least fifty years. The use of hot sauce, soap, and pepper flakes are relics from a time before we had the benefit of child development as a science. Research has given us insight into developmental stages of childhood such that behaviors are explainable, predictable and preventable. That a 2-year-old repeated language he heard should be the end of this story. The words and phrases you use are models for him to copy as he gains communication skills. Unfortunately you used language that you didn’t want him to copy. Then you gave your son negative attention for doing what is predictable (and preventable) for his age. This taught him to get attention this way again. Then you punished him for it. Then he punished you by scoffing at your punishment, which prompted you to think of a worse punishment. This is a power struggle.
Authoritarian vs. Authoritative
The concept of a parent-child power struggle has been helpful to parents since at least 1964 when Rudolf Dreikurs wrote “Children the Challenge.” (His work continues to influence the field of parenting education) He advocated taking a more balanced approach to discipline than the prevailing style at the time of “I’m more powerful than you, so you have to do my bidding.” Parenting education since then, at least among those who follow child development research, has advocated an “authoritative” rather than “authoritarian” style of discipline. Parents should consider a child’s needs, abilities, feelings, as well as stage of development and personality factors, when guiding behavior. The parent’s role is to steer the child in the right direction so he can gradually steer himself, not to intimidate the child into obedience.
Attention – Power – Revenge – Inadequacy
A power struggle, Dreikurs advised, is part of a deteriorating relationship between parent and child. Misbehavior – that is, any behavior which the parent has labeled as such – is repeated when a child has no other way of getting attention. According to Dreikurs, the parent who reacts negatively (in essence, displaying his power over the child), provokes the second step, which is the child’s attempt to assert power against the parent. If the parent continues to up the ante with a harsher punishment, the child will counter with a sneaky misbehavior which Dreikurs calls revenge. This is the misbehavior that is done out of sight of the parent and often designed to be discovered when the child is far from the scene of the crime. Examples include writing on a wall, breaking the stem of a houseplant or hiding the parent’s keys or glasses. When the “crime” is discovered and the “perpetrator” accused, the parent escalates the severity of his reaction. At this point the child begins to conduct himself accordingly as a wrongdoer of little or no value to the family. He now acts up – up to the expectation of the parent. In other words, the parent’s view of the child as “bad” becomes the child’s identity. He accepts that he is bad and behaves accordingly. The antidote to all this is to start over by giving your child loving, age-appropriate attention. There are courses, books, support groups, and counselors well-qualified to help you with this process.
Look for parenting support that is backed by child development research. Among less qualified “experts” you will find advocates for hot saucing who use conflicting arguments: only use it for a child too young to reason with/only use it with a child old enough to understand the threat so you don’t actually have to use it. You will also find those who will cite a biblical precedent or television celebrity as reason enough. And of course, there will always be those who boast that it “worked” when nothing else did.
While not specifically a crime, using hot sauce or other caustic substances as a means of punishment is, at the least, unnecessary given all the tools we have today for understanding and guiding behavior. At the worst, the child’s tongue and or throat could become inflamed causing him to die.
Please, don’t go for the hot sauce.
Dr. Wood will be offering a 3-part series on Effective Discipline for parents and caregivers of 2-5 year-olds March 20, 27, and April 3, 2014, 5:30-7:30 pm at Chesapeake Children’s Museum. For registration call 410-990-1993 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com