The Adrian Peterson story has ignited a debate about corporal punishment in our country—particularly around whether it’s ok to use the same methods of physical discipline some of our parents used on us. I’m seeing comments that run from one extreme to the other on social media:
“My dad used a switch on me, and I turned out ok.”
“He’s a monster. Turn the switch on him and see how he likes it.”
Stories like this touch our nerves quickly as parents. We think back immediately to how we were disciplined…or not. We defend the parent at the center of the controversy or we vilify him. The truth is, the moment of learning for us as parents comes neither in the defense nor the vilification. It comes from asking ourselves if we have all the training we need to do this job of “parent.”
We don’t know the details of what happened in Adrian Peterson’s home. What we do know is that parents everywhere have a need for direction on how to discipline their children. As a society, we succeed if parents have clear direction and a plan for dealing with negative child behavior. I think we get into trouble when parents don’t ask for help and rely too often on instinct, “gut,” or the way they were parented. We simply need more than that today, and fortunately there is more than that available.
In our work with parents and behaviorally disordered children, my husband, James, and I held fast to this rule: There is no excuse for abuse. That holds true whether the abuse is from the child to the parent or the parent to the child. I believe it’s important for parents to understand what abuse is, what their options are for effective discipline and where to turn for help if they feel they are out of options. For example, they can call the 2-1-1 National Helpline to connect to resources in their area for parenting support. If you are concerned about a child’s safety, the National Child Abuse Hotline can help at 1-800-422-4453.
I also believe the time has come to remove the stigma around parents asking for help once a bad pattern is established. Any parent who loves their child and wants to make a change is highly motivated and can be very successful in changing a negative dynamic. But they have to ask for help, and we have to make it okay for them to ask for that help.
There are many, many parents all over this country who will be pushed today and who will react in a way that they regret, that isn’t effective or that is hurtful emotionally or physically. They won’t be able to see their way through the problem in front of them, and neither will their children. They won’t see that between, “Stop that!” and striking out at their child, there is a whole range of tools and options that will get them better results. In the end, bad child behavior stems from a child’s inability to solve basic social problems. Teach them how to solve problems better, get some coaching from our 1-on-1 Coaches, and you’re more effective as a parent. You don’t have to parent in the extreme because you have a plan and options.
In the weeks ahead, there will no doubt be more publicity about the investigation surrounding this case and its career implications for the man at the center of the controversy. But those headlines are really not relevant to the core problem this story reveals: the absolute importance of getting parents the coaching they need to be better parents.
For more on how to use effective consequences to discipline your child, check out my article here on Empowering Parents: Child Discipline: Consequences and Effective Parenting