In the mid-1970s, I attended a seminar that promised to train me to become an instructor in positive discipline methods. It turned out that the methods amounted to one: talking.
Any behavior problem could be solved, the trainer told us, by reasoning with a child. Furthermore, he said, adults should answer children's questions honestly. To not do so is to disrespect them, to deny that they are intelligent. By this point, I had had enough experience with trying to reason with my own kids to recognize baloney when I heard it. Many parents today, when their children misbehave, they talk. I call it “yada-yada discipline.”
They also seem to feel that if a child asks a question, he is due an explanation. The problem, as the mother of a 5-year-old girl recently discovered, is that children – to borrow from the title of a popular 1950s television show – sometimes inquire about “the darnedest things.”
Said mother and her daughter are sitting together one afternoon when the child asks what “hump” means. The mother, startled, blurts out that a hump is what one finds on the backs of camels. So far, so good.
This little girl is not so easily bamboozled, however. She persists. “I know that,” she says. “I mean what does it mean for one person to hump another person?”
She asks her daughter why in the world she is asking such a question. Who told her that people hump each other? The child answers that a boy (no surprises here) at school told her adults sometimes hump each other. “Like this,” she says, and then proceeds to demonstrate a pelvic motion familiar to fans of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” She then asks the most dreaded question of all: “Do you and Daddy hump?” The mother begins, yes, talking.
She tells her daughter that this is an inappropriate question and so is the motion. All this talking, I will bet, only further inflamed the child's curiosity. She probably went to school and told her friends that her mother said that to talk about humping was “inappropriate”; therefore, they will certainly talk and giggle some more about it and even make that motion with their hips.
The mother's sister asks, “What would you have done?” Easy. I would have given the camel answer, but then, when the child persisted, I would have said, “I have no idea what you are talking about. Your friend at school is mistaken” and I would have followed up on this, immediately, with something like, “I feel like a bowl of ice cream. How about you?” And the matter would have probably died a natural death.
Children are not entitled to answers to all of their questions. They are only entitled to answers to questions that they should be asking. If that means that they are sometimes “disrespected,” I'm all for it.