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Spare The Rod And Spoil The Child – Really?

“Dear parent, your child has been found playing in the lunch break instead of having his lunch. And despite repeatedly being told to stop playing and have his lunch, he refused and kept on playing till the end of the lunch break. This note is being sent to you as such behaviour is unacceptable and we wish you to discipline your child as you deem fit.”

This was the note I received from school last week. When my little one got home with the note, he came and hugged me somberly and gave the note to me saying, “Oh Mum, you need to sign this…

I read the note and looked at him. He was staring at me, waiting for consequences.

I said, “Oh ho, your teacher beat me to it! I was going to send her a note myself, about you not having your lunch at school. I wanted to request her to keep an eye on you and ensure that you eat your lunch before you go out to play in your break.

For a moment, there was silence. Then our eyes met and we both had a good laugh about it!

No, believe me, this really happened!

I know what you are thinking, what kind of mother laughs it out when informed that her child is not eating his lunch on time and undermining the teacher’s authority? A mother like me, perhaps…

The thing is I know that as his mother I have to pack my little one a healthy lunch every day. As for his teacher, she is bound to keep me informed and voice her displeasure at the fact that my little one did something she specifically told him not to do and didn’t do something she specifically told him to do. And as for my little one, well, he knows that his mum has packed a good lunch for him and that he is supposed to eat it; but then what can he do? He is only seven; and play is extremely important for him right now!

The prospect of going to the playground and running wild is definitely more enticing for him than wasting precious playtime eating his lunch; and as his mother, I do understand that. I am sure his teacher understands it too; but then she is duty bound to be strict with him and make him aware that his actions have consequences. And she has done her part by calling him out in front of the class and sending me the note.

As a parent, I can respond to this note in several ways:

1. I can get upset with him and ask him what was he thinking not having his lunch and making the teacher angry enough to send such a note; OR

2. I can appeal to him emotionally saying I wake up early in the morning to make healthy food for him and the least he has to do is finish his meal and come; but see what he does instead; OR

3. I can give him a time-out or ground him for his behaviour or worse, punish him; OR

4. I can do what I did and remind him the next day when packing his lunch that he better start having his lunch before he goes out to play so that we can avoid such instances in the future.

How I respond and how I manage this situation determines whether or not my little one repeats his behaviour. And I felt at the time, that Option 4 was the best of the lot; and I did exactly that.

Did my little one finish his lunch the next day? Not exactly; I mean he didn’t have it entirely, but then he has seldom brought home a clean tiffin box; so I didn’t even expect him to. But yes, he did seem to have made a substantial dent in the lunch to let anyone who bothered to look know, that he had made an attempt, really; and to me, that was all that mattered.

Growing up, I remember most of us were punished for our wrong behaviour and our lack of respect for elders. I am sure most parents of my generation remember the spanking they got only too well. We never realised it as children maybe, but our parents believed that if you spare the rod, you clearly are spoiling the child. Some of my friends fondly remember being hit with rulers or hangers; while others have warm memories of being struck with hot ladles/ spatulas.

One particular friend of mind hates the rolling pin and every time he sees his wife use it in the kitchen, runs as far away from it as possible. There is also a friend who hates closed spaces as they remind her of being locked in her room for punishment and another who hates closed dark spaces for the same reason.

Were the parents of all these friends of mine monsters? Did they hate their children so much that they gave them these inhuman punishments? No. Believe it or not, they meant well. That is why they did what they thought would work best. Just like today, as parents, we do what we think is best. It’s just that, where the earlier generation thought that this is how we were raised and it will be how you will be raised too; we prefer more subtle, preferably positive forms of punishment. (Well, some of us do, for sure. I cannot comment on the larger parent population, although I would love to hear their opinions in the comments section.)

What I am saying is, I feel, that the efficacy of the punishment is more important than the horror of it. And what really matters is how well the child understands what he/she did wrong and doesn’t repeat the same in future. We all know that the blacksmith hits hard on hot iron to give it shape. But the thing to remember is that it is not the mere act of hitting hard that determines the shape, but how and where the blacksmith hits. As parents, we know we are responsible for telling our children right from wrong. But how we do it, makes all the difference.

What do you think? Do you believe in sparing the rod? Or using it?

Rashmi is a devoted mum and an avid reader. When she is not engrossed in a book or attending to the whims of her spirited offspring, she indulges in creative writing and blogging. She was a lawyer once, much before she surrendered to motherhood and took up writing. Today, she is a regular contributor to lifestyle, parenting and e-learning websites; and has created FindMyRead – a vibrant community of book lovers! To read more from Rashmi, visit her blogs Ramblings et al and Find My Read