Wednesday, August 18, 2010

To scold or not to scold?

I once read in a Christian-published book on parenting that parents should NEVER scold their children or raise their voices in anger. I was surprised and confused by the admonition. I'd been scolded and whipped by my parents. My husband yelled at our kids, and I found myself doing the same—out of habit and frustration, perhaps, or because I believed it was what parents are supposed to do. 68 years of life have taught me why the advice from the parenting book is spot on. I've seen the results of scolding, effects that linger long into adulthood, if not throughout life. And I've seen effects of nurturing without scolding: well adapted children and young adults. Wow. The Golden Rule applies here, folks.

Every time a child is attacked with the sharp edge of an adult's rebuke, a piece of his or her self-esteem is whittled away. Soon the child has no self-confidence left. He doesn't trust himself or his elders and withdraws. He or she develops defensive strategies such as hiding, sneaking, stealing, and lying.

So what is the alternative to scolding? We can't just let them get away with bad behavior, can we? No, of course not, but take a look at what you are judging as "Bad." Make sure it is not the children. Kids will make mistakes, but that doesn't make them bad. It just means they're human—little human beings that are learning about life and about themselves as best they can with what they hear, see, and experience.

I like the advice that Kedric H. Cecil, Ph. D.* gives in his book, "Wisdom from the Streets." He says, and years of experience and observation back it up, "As parents we must use every opportunity to help our children feel good about themselves. In the middle of any interaction with them, we need to ask ourselves if our actions will enhance or detract from their self-esteem.
"The easiest way to accomplish that is to treat them the way we would like to be treated. Even though our parents may have done the best they could, if something did not feel right to us as children, it may not have been right, and we need to treat our children accordingly."

* Dr. Kedric H. Cecil specializes in working with at-risk children and their families, as well as those who have suffered physical and emotional abuse. He is adjunct professor in the Graduate Program in Counseling at Montana State University-Northern and is in private practice in Havre and Great Falls, Montana. See more about him and his book at