Standing in line at the grocery store, I watched as a frustrated mother repeatedly told her young, crying son that he could not have the candy bar he wanted. As she unpacked her groceries, putting them on the belt, he continued to cry, ask for the candy bar, and tell her that he needed it. Her response was that he could not have it. I was proud of her for sticking to her guns UNTIL she exclaimed, “Fine. If it gets you to stop crying, you can have it!” At this point, his tears stopped immediately, a smile spread across his face, and she finished checking out. As they were leaving the store, he began crying again, saying that he wanted to go to the toy store. She told him that they could not go to the toy store today. He continued crying as they left the store.
This little boy is learning how to manipulate his mother, hot to get his own way, and who is in charge of the family - him.
Contrast this with an experience I had today at Disney World. As I again stood in line, this time waiting for bus transportation to the Magic Kingdom, a little boy stood at his mother’s feet, holding onto her legs, and looking up at her with tears streaming down his little face. As he cried, he kept asking her to pick him up. Her response each time was exactly the same, a quiet but firm, “You bit me. Until you can apologize and stop crying, I will not pick you up.” She repeated these same two sentences six or seven times over a span of 10 minutes or so. Finally, the little boy wiped his eyes, looked up at her and said, “I sorry.” She whipped him up into her arms, hugged him, kissed him, and said, “Good boy. Now don’t bite any more, okay?” He responded that he would not and they both smiled.
This little boy is learning that there are societal and familial expectations, that his mother is not one to be manipulated, and that she is the adult in the relationship. He also is learning that he can trust what she says to him because when she says something, she means it.
Consistent discipline provides a structure for a child that gives him a sense of security.