Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Your Baby Can Walk!

Imagine someone comes up with a product called Your Baby Can Walk!

It's a series of videos, featuring inspirational clips of people walking around. And close-up shots of kids talking about walking. And catchy songs about how great walking is.

It also includes supplemental materials like little wind-up toys that look like people walking. And colorful, baby-sized foot shapes to put around the floor so your baby could step on them.

Your Baby Can Walk! might just be a smash hit. It could offer almost guaranteed results like: Your child will learn to walk by age two or your money back. Most children would in fact learn to walk while using the system. People would start to swear by it. They would praise the great results they got from using it. Competitors would start popping up, claiming to get your baby walking sooner, better, faster. Maybe so many parents would start using these products, that in only a few generations, people might forget that all babies used to learn to walk without them.

Does this sound crazy? Or not so crazy, given that there actually are products out there promising to teach our babies to read?

What does this have to do with discipline? Maybe a lot. Discipline programs for parents to use on children are sort of like programs for teaching babies to walk. Parenting experts promise their systems will work on your kid. Spankings and time-outs and reward programs have all become products that parents are buying, with one common goal among them: to get a kid to abandon his bad, child-like behaviors as soon as possible.

Parents who practice these techniques will swear they are working as their children grow up. However, no one can prove your child wouldn't grow out of these so-called bad behaviors anyway, without punishments or rewards or any kind of manipulation. No one can prove that any type of discipline helps a child grow and learn any faster than he would naturally, with lots of love and support and gentle guidance.

Right now (but maybe not for long, if Your Baby Can Walk! ever really comes out) most of us parents trust that our children will eventually stop crawling and learn to walk, unless they are faced with an incapacitating injury or illness. But a lot of parents don't seem trust that our children will learn other things, like communicating effectively or respecting others, without punishment and force.

Is it possible that the ubiquity of child-discipline methods, punitive, manipulative ways to train children in the ways of the world, have made us "forget" to question whether they are necessary at all?