Saturday, June 03, 2006

Toddler Discipline

Took the boy to the city & back on the BART & Muni trains earlier tonight. First time on BART in about a year, and his first time on Muni ever. He talked to people, looked out the window, got scared in the tunnels, a regular human on mass transit. He loves trains, so I figured he'd be happy as pie the whole time, but he wound up have a kicking, punching screamfest on the BART on the way home, wanting to get off at each station, clawing the glasses off my face, etc. I admit I'd been warned about keeping him out past his bedtime; an idle warning not. I stayed calm and redirected his attentions before driving too many patrons to utter distraction.

Discipline of children has many nuances, forms, and repurcussions that have had my brain and hands quite engaged in recent weeks. Not long ago I got a copy of 12 Point Buck by Killdozer, which is an old favorite of mine that got damaged years ago and is hard to find. The disc holds many excellent lyrics, but the one that mesmerizes me the most, that I find myself chanting for hours, is the opening line from Cotton Bolls: "When I was just my father's son he would beat me in the head with the butt of a gun". Now, my mother did not mete out any corporal punishment directly to me, but did let a couple of her boyfriends try me on it, and my brothers' dad did threaten me with one of his guns one rural drunk night. I loathed the spankings and slappings, never trusted any of those fuckers that laid hands on me; still gravitate to violent solutions.

In March 2002 Scientific American published an article titled Scars That Won't Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse about how the changes in the developing brain associated with mistreatment often last a lifetime. According to the article males receive the most damage from neglect and females the most damage from sexual abuse. Those brain changes can make it difficult to "Just get over it" or fix it with psychotherapy. Behavior modification based on negative reinforcement formed the cornerstone of my early learning on the subject - rub the cat's nose in the shit said my mother's mother; my old dog Thurber used to yelp and cower as dude beat and kicked it for barking too much; make them fear and hate you even in the undeniable light of their love for you. Learned so much by taking the dogs we have now to puppy training school a few years ago, positive reinforcement based. I believe that many folks these days don't plan on beating their kids, pets, or lovers but end up doing so out of anger and desparation, reverting to what they were raised on. Those kids grow up to kick their dogs and smack their daughters. I very much hope that the wife and I can make it through raising these children with a minumum of negative reinforcement and zero smacking, but easier written than done.

Very clear to me so far shines the fact that to focus on a behavior encourages it, and that ill treatment of a person stands a good chance of propagating through countless generations, causing untold grief and sorrow.

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