Discipline and conflicts with children – a minefield for the adults

back to childhoodOverhearing a snippet from a documentary on Lady Dianna, as I whisked the dust cloth over the television, I heard one of the contributors make this comment; “why do we pretend that the gap between childhood and adulthood is so big when in fact it is very tiny?”  The comment has plagued my conscious thinking today and no doubt caused a stir in the sub-conscious and shadow so aptly explained by Carl Jung.

And if we were to accept this view that the gap between adult and child is so very tiny it would follow that those pesky little critters we call triggers would have us be back in pigtails and school shirts in an instant.  After some years in the counselling room, on both sides of the couch and just from my everyday life I must agree.  It is not so much that there are many triggers or that triggers have a great mysterious power.  Rather, that this gap between adult and the unresolved child is in fact so tiny or more accurately put, so obscure, that it does not really take much of a potion to conjure up a time warp or dreaded portal that has us back in the past in a flash.

As things turned out, subsequent events in the day conspired to have me delve a little deeper into this narrowing gap.  Specifically, a conversation about child discipline became the launch pad for me to consider the question raised in the documentary.  While my conclusions are valid only in the space decorated by my brunette locks, I decided to record them here.

I am unashamedly a disciplinarian and quite resigned about it.  At least two of my siblings are the same way and we know which apple tree we have not fallen too far from.  We have at least rolled some distance I would hope but in essence the protruding root still has us know from whence we hail.  For my children’s sake, I hope that it is tempered with a balance of wisdom and the critical ingredient of compassion.

Outside of the relationship between biological parent-child disciplining another whole fascinating world exists.  A world of triggers, hooks, blind spots, tactics and age-old survival mechanisms.  Of course it all exists inside the biological relationship too.  I see and catch myself trying desperately to avoid what my parents did at times while at other times I am awfully proud to be following what was handed  down to me.  All of it completely subjective in essence … when it suits us, what our parents did was good and when it does not we declare indignantly we will never be guilty of the same and stand nobly as martyrs against those who perpetuate such evils.

Outside the biological parent-child relationship this subjectivity reaches exponential levels and reveals the reality beneath the seemingly inactive volcanoes we all are.  At every school, parents moan with teachers when they discipline children.  In every family, parents have fall-outs when grandparents, aunts and uncles admonish their children.  And sadly, many a step-family breaks apart in the name of “disciplining the kids.”

I trust that as a reader you would have the assurance that the realm of abuse is not dealt with in this article.  The abuse of children is a disease and needs to be dealt with inside the appropriate framework.    Also, the nature of the punishment and  the events surrounding the discipline are all up for discussion.  As a mother, I have investigated a number of interludes in the classroom and had a few discussions with teachers.  I have also supported many punishments and supervised the writing of lines.

I am attempting here to raise the awareness that our reactions to the discipline of and conflicts around our children are firmly rooted in our childhood experience of discipline and conflict.  While we are all aware that our offspring represent (especially in the early years) our inner child and most often the unresolved inner child, we lose sight of the extent to which we are dealing with ourselves and our past while we are in the present.  We lose sight of the extent to which others are dealing with themselves and their unresolved inner child while we think things are pretty clear.

I have observed adults and I have observed the children.  I have observed what is apparent and wondered about what is not apparent.  I have observed myself and analysed the triggers and the projections.  I watched the upsets, the tempers flairs and barriers to healing.  From the playground to the living room there is always a common thread.  The children and the presenting problem fade into background while the adults have it out.  Not long thereafter and almost always there is a breakdown in relationship between the adults – both of them doing what they wanted to do when they were nine or doing what their parents should have done when they were five.  Neither of them have the capacity to avoid slipping through the portal beyond that tiny gap between adult and child.

In the realisation of how tiny this gap really is, I recognise that the primary issue is almost never what one is dealing with.  The misdemeanour of the child in the present is hardly ever the focus of the discussion.  At best, we could perhaps hope that a high-level of self-awareness will be met with a willingness to resolve.  Realistically, we are cautioned to remember that the gap between adult and child is not as great as we would like to believe.  As such, the discipline of a child or any conflict around a child launches an adult to the world as it existed for them at that age.  And whoever it was that caused their upset then is who the other adult becomes in that moment.  This is known as projection.  Your attempts at dealing with the child are all filtered through the inner-child who perceived the world as unfair, cruel, embarrassing and not-the-way-I-want-it.  Whether the teacher, the grandparent or the step-parent, your goalposts have shifted from dealing with the child of the present to dealing with the child of the present and their parent’s inner child of the past.  It is worth noting that the child of the past has been unsuccessfully trying to change the world of then for years and you now appear to be yet another obstacle in their quest.

In considering the idea that this gap between childhood and adulthood is very  tiny and knowing how much our children represent our inner child, I am realising what we actually take on when we engage with and care for other people’s children.  It has also made me realise that a highly charged relationship between adults is most likely set ablaze quite simply with the conflict over a child – however it may look.

Whether a peaceful relationship that became tense or a tense relationship that exploded as a result of a conflict around a child, it is worth remembering how tiny the gap between adult and child is and how easily our inner child is triggered by the events around our children.