Screamfree Parenting – Beyond Discipline with Love

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Now, on to today’s reading, which was edited and adapted from Love’s Way by Orison Swett Marden, published in 1918.

Love is the great educator, the great unfolder of youth. As the sun is the only thing that will bring out the exquisite beauty of fruits and flowers, so love is the only thing that will develop the sweetness and the beauty of the child. It is the only power that will call out the true, the beautiful side of its nature.

It is only the hard, coarse, and unlovely qualities of the child that are developed by force and repression. How often would a little kindness and forbearance on the part of a parent or guardian, a little better knowledge of a child’s nature, do wonders for a so-called “bad child” who is considered “incorrigible” or “hyperactive,” a fit subject for psychiatric drugs.

Benjamin Lindsey, a judge and social reformer who had, perhaps, a better knowledge of the nature of the growing boy and girl than any psychologist or expert in child study, says: “The child is a wonderful creature, a divine machine. We have much to expect from them, but they have much to expect from us, and what they return depends largely upon what we give.”

Children instinctively admire the good and the beautiful. They are natural hero-worshipers, and they respond enthusiastically to stories of heroism, high endeavor, loyalty, chivalry, all the highest and best instincts of humanity. The noblest qualities are inherent in the child. But wrong training (suppression, nagging, scolding, terrorizing, depriving the growing mind of the stimulus of good books, fine examples of living, the starving of its body through insufficient or improper food) all this may, and often does, turn what with proper training might have been a splendid boy or girl into a pitiable human wreck.

The destiny of the child hangs upon its early environment, its parents, teachers and associates. Upon these depend the qualities or characteristics that will be called out of its nature. There are seeds of all sorts of possibilities lying dormant in the boy and the girl. A bad mother or father, a bad teacher, by appealing to the bad in them, will call out the bad. A good parent, a good teacher, by appealing to the best in them, will call out the best.

Evil responds to evil. Nobility responds to nobility. If you want to get the most out of your child, you cannot do it by repressing, by cramping, by watching, or by criticizing. I have known children to become so completely discouraged by being constantly denounced, scolded, perpetually reminded of their shortcomings, their weaknesses, by being told that they were stupid and would never amount to anything, that they completely lost confidence in themselves, and instead of progressing in a natural healthy way, they constantly fell behind in their studies, in their work, in every way.

How often we hear a parent talking to child like this: “Now hurry up! Stop being so lazy! Don’t be stupid! You’ll will never amount to anything, if you keep acting like this!” anyway 1’* These denunciations so discourage a child after a while that they don’t care, and don’t try, to do their best. Then, of course, their standards drop and life deteriorates.

The well-known principle so effective in animal training is just as effective in child training, in man and woman making. Children love to be praised and appreciated, just as horses and dogs and other animals do. Many children, especially those of a sensitive nature, live upon praise and appreciation, but the moment a high-spirited child is struck we naturally arouse their bitter resentment, their hatred, their antagonism.

Remember that Like attracts like. If you are brutal to your child, you can hardly expect to call out angelic qualities from them. A parent should be just as careful, if not more so, not to forfeit the good opinion, the love and admiration of their child as they would be not to forfeit the friendship of their best friend. If you cannot be a friend to your child, you certainly cannot expect them to look up to you as an ideal, or even a fairly good, parent.

Every time you punish your child in anger they despise you for it. They know that you do it because you are stronger and claim the right by virtue of your parentage. You can get the confidence of your child just as you can get the confidence of friends, and in no other way.

Love and respect will come only in response to love and respect. If love your child in the right way, and if you enter into all their ambitions and life with keen interest; if the child feels that you really are their best friend, they will tell you everything, and not until then.

Many parents are distressed by the waywardness of their children; but the waywardness they deplore is often more imaginary than real. A large part of their children’s pranks and mischief is merely the result of exuberant youthful spirits. They are so full of energy, and so buoyant with life that it is difficult for them to restrain themselves. Love is the only power that will control them.

I once knew a mother who brought up a large family of children in the most admirable way. She never applied physical punishment or spoke a cross word to any of them. When this woman’s first child was born, friends and neighbors said she was too good-natured to bring up children, that she would spoil them, as she would not correct or discipline, and would do nothing but love them. It is true, love was her only instrument of correction and discipline, but what splendid results it achieved!

Love has proved the great magnet which has held her large family together in a marvelous way. Not one member of it has gone astray. They have all grown up to be noble, straightforward, self-reliant men and women. Today they all look upon their mother as the greatest figure in the world. She has brought out the best in them. The worst did not need correcting or repressing, because the best overpowered it.

Love’s way is the only way that always works. No human being in any part of the world has found that love’s way has failed, that it has ever been wanting. It is as stable and as certain as the law of gravitation.

The three great essentials for a happy childhood are food, love, and play. After food and love, play is the great builder and developer of childhood. Yet there are far too large a number of parents who are still utterly ignorant of, or indifferent to, the rights of their children in this respect. And some of them are a little bit like our Puritan fathers who, in the early history of our country, thought that the fun-loving, playful faculties were a waste of time and detrimental to self-development.

But we know now that this is the opposite of the truth. We have found many more useful things for a child’s development in their play than in some of the things taught in the schools, although both school and play are necessary. You are not loving your children, my parent friends, when you curtail their play, or worse still, shut it off altogether. This will tend to destroy their symmetrical development and to deprive them of the sound judgment and good sense which can only come from a symmetrically developed brain.

The great German educator Friedrich Froebel told us that play is in reality the most spiritual activity of the child. He said that it is “typical of human life as a whole — of the inner, hidden, natural life of the individual and all things; it gives, therefore, joy, freedom, contentment, inner and outer rest, peace with the world; it holds the sources of all that is good. The child that plays thoroughly until physical fatigue exhausts them will surely be a thorough determined person, capable of self-sacrifice for the promotion and welfare of themselves and others.”

It may come as surprise to you, but Jesus of Nazareth was among the first who voiced the rights of the child. During Jesus’s time the child was not supposed to have any rights that adults were bound to respect and often they were treated brutally as servants, but Jesus elevated the child as key-keepers of the Kingdom of Heaven, saying, “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones were it better for them that a millstone be hanged about their neck, and they be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Jesus thus gave a new significance to the child, along with a new life and new opportunities — one which inspired Christian reformers in Europe and the United States to demand employers and governments take hundreds of thousands of children out of factories, stores, and mines, and send them to school, giving them a chance for life.

Every government should guarantee the inalienable right of its children to a fair chance in life, to all the advantages which a superb physique, robust health, a practical education and good moral training will give them.

However, the state can do only so much. Above all, love in the home is the great educator of the child, the great maker of men and women — not the overindulgent, ignorant love which makes children little monsters of selfishness and cruelty, but the wise, enlightened, divine love which knows how to discipline, to withhold as well as to give.

Many parents who think they love their children are in reality their greatest enemies. They bring out the worst that is in them, because they appeal to the worst. They appeal to all that is frail, weak, timid, and unlovable in their nature, by catering to their selfishness, indulging every whim (no matter how un- reasonable or vicious), by doing everything for them instead of allowing them to do things for themselves and thus strengthen their faculties and power of self-reliance.

They are allowed to stay at home from school when they “play” sick, as so many children do, and are petted, and coddled, and fussed over, when there is really nothing the matter with them. If they fall or hurt themselves, they are sympathized with and encouraged to cry, by expressions of pity, instead of being taught to bear a little pain or hurt bravely and not to whimper like a weakling.

In a hundred such ways, weak, foolish parents cultivate the selfishness of their children until they become unbearable; they destroy their courage and self-reliance; make cowards and weaklings of them, and pave the way for their destruction. Many men and women have lived to curse in bitterness of heart the criminal indulgence of overfond parents, who were the primal cause of their ruin.

Do not do for your children what they ought to do for themselves, but help them to help themselves. Do not allow them to trample on the rights of others in order to gratify their own selfish desires. Show them the beauty of the Golden Rule, and insist upon their practicing it in their games, with their playmates, and with older people. Teach them to respect the rights of others, but don’t forget under any circumstance that they also have rights which should be respected.

Raising a child is the most delicate and sacred business in the world. It is a work that calls for the greatest wisdom, the finest discernment, the most infinite patience. Love includes all of these.

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All transcripts from our personal development podcasts are edited adaptations of the original work and copyrighted by LivingHour.org.