Please don’t use me to discipline your kids

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

The adage "it takes a village to raise a child" may be fine in theory, at least until someone else has words with our child in the playground for something they consider a misdemeanour. Then we might feel quite outraged that someone else thought they had the right to discipline our child. Who do they think they are? How do they know the particular needs or foibles of our child? 

Many parents though think nothing of invoking the threat of other people's anger, even those same people in the playground, as a method of managing their children's behaviour.  For example, "if you keep chasing that little girl her mummy is going to be really cross," or  "you mustn't just play with someone else's toys, their grandpa won't like it."

My part-time job in a bookshop means I have the pleasure of interacting with a vast array of customers, a great number of them parents or carers of children and then there are the children themselves, all of whom comport themselves in their own unique way.

There are those for whom reading is a cherished gift and a trip to the bookshop is met with reverence. At the other extreme there are those under duress, for whom reading holds no appeal and the virtues extolled by school fall on stony ground. And there are the perfunctory shoppers, those there to buy a present or a book on a school list.

All of them give me an insight into parenting styles and attitudes from a different perspective to usual since I am not there as a parent, but a bookseller.

If I had a dollar for every time a parent said to their child, "the lady will be really cross if you…" I could probably double my wages. The outsourcing of authority in this regard casts everyone in a negative light. The parent perhaps feels it is the right thing to do since they hold no jurisdiction in the shop. It also lets them off forever being the 'baddy' by diverting the role of disciplinarian onto someone else.

It undermines the belief the child has in their parent's sense of right and wrong however. It's as though they are being told, 'of course if it was up to me it would be fine but it's out of my hands.' It suggests that the child should and might be better behaved thanks to the threat of a stranger's anger, rather than through doing the right thing.

It places me in the position of ogre, or at least potential ogre. Sure, were a child to begin throwing or biting books, ripping pages, running amok to the extent they were disturbing other customers then I probably wouldn't be happy.

But I wouldn't start being cross with the child. I would be approaching the carer and suggesting they had a word. With the biting I would of course remove the poor book (and possibly ask for payment - it has happened!)

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The other day I listened as a mother told her child that the garage were "not allowed" to sell ice cream at that time of day - it was about 8am. I truly understand where the poor woman was coming from. Her child was clearly tenacious. When she reiterated that sugary items weren't for sale at breakfast time he piped up, "well I'll stay 'til lunch then!" She had her hands full.

The same goes for parents who, in moments of desperation suggest that the police might come and step into whatever fray the child might be in the midst of. Outsourcing to the highest level. And almost guaranteed to work up until a certain age or gaining of knowledge. 

That knowledge is that the parent is just making it up. The lady in the bookshop is clearly lovely, the guy in the garage has no opinions where people's shopping habits are concerned. The police actually have real baddies to catch. 

So actually telling untruths serves no purpose in helping kids make good decisions. It is our job as parents, adults (who know the child), to help them gain knowledge and read situations. To instruct them in the whys and wherefores of navigating life. 

Taking responsibility for their own actions from a sound moral compass is one of the best things we can help children achieve. Even the most angelic child struggles at times with self discipline. Gently guiding them through this rather than outsourcing will help them learn the integrity we would all do well to remember.


Julia Cahill is mum to three boys, sells books and writes in-between. She blogs at www.juliacahillswords.com