“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” — Proverbs 22:6
Rule No. 5 in Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” may seem to be strangely titled. Yet his theme is that without responsible parenting, appropriate discipline and a balance of rewards and punishments, children will grow up into anti-social, rejected, depressed people. These are just the kind of folks that create chaos, bloodshed, shootings or worse. Patterns of positive child behavior are engendered by responsible parenting and are set by around age 4.
When I was a child, corporal punishment was an accepted social standard. Didn’t like it then, nor do I like it now. Slapping with a hickory stick by my otherwise beatific teaching nuns, a flyswatter across the backside from mama, or after I inexplicably threw a dirt clod at the local sheriff peacefully tending his garden, a belt was there to remind me of the social and behavioral limits of my childhood acts.
Dr. Jordan laments the reluctance of contemporary parents to restrain the anger, limit-pushing and selfish behavior of some children. Two-year-old humans are statistically highly aggressive. They may kick, bite, scream, resist going to bed, refuse food, don’t like to share, thump and bully their peers or siblings. If undisciplined, they will retain such habits through later childhood and beyond, making them unwelcome in civilized society. If not redirected by loving, well-meaning adults, society will end up punishing them with ostracization, marginalization and even jail time.
Children expressing anger, or even hatred when disciplined by a parent, is painful. However, ignoring this is essential. You are more than a friend. As a parent you choose to change them when they behave in ways that you don’t like, knowing it will be in their long-term interest. Short-term avoidance of the challenges of parenting usually ends up with disconnected, unresolved issues in kids, subsequent avoidance by peers, teachers, adults and others who could enable their way to a better life.
Think of it this way. If you, as a parent don’t like their behavior, how do you think others who don’t know and love them will feel and react? Think of a screaming and out of control 3-year-old in the airport. We expect better behavior from comfort and service animals, who by the way also need training.
Unfortunately, none of our kids came with a “how-to-do-parenting” manual when they entered the world. Like all parents, we get on-the-job training.
Concluding this chapter on child rearing, Dr. Jordan offers the following five principles:
1. Limit rules;
2. Use minimum necessary force;
3. Parents should come in pairs;
4. Parents should understand their own capacity to be harsh, vengeful, arrogant, resentful, angry, and deceitful; and
5. Parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world — merciful proxies, caring proxies. It is the primary duty of parents to make their children socially desirable which will provide the child with opportunity, self-regard and security.
Don’t let your children do anything that makes you dislike them. Pay attention to them, give immediate feedback, provide discipline, rewards and timeouts or measured punishment when needed. These will help keep your children in a zone in which they will be successful, socially adept and not trouble you much in your old age.