I am a twenty-one year old mother and I have no experience in how to discipline my twenty-month-old son. I also have a seven-month-old baby girl…. At times I feel out of control, screaming at him exasperated because he is rambunctious and gets into everything.

My husband has chosen to use the belt on him, and sometimes I feel that he goes too far. It really hurts me to see the marks left on his little legs. I’m desperate because we often argue and fight about how young our son is to be disciplined in such a severe way. I had a very rough childhood. My parents used to beat me, and left scars on me from the electrical cord that they used…. I have a lot of scars on my head to show for it, and bad memories that I don’t want to experience or repeat with my children.

Please help me! I need to know how to punish my children when they throw temper tantrums and refuse to obey or to eat their food. I don’t want to spoil my son, nor do I want to abuse him and leave marks that I will never be able to erase from my mind…

Dear Friend,

Toddlers can be exasperating. Their desire to have their own way and their temper tantrums can test the patience of even the most experienced parent. However, an informed parent realizes that physical violence will not teach a toddler anything helpful. Instead, it will make the child angry and cause him to act out even more. What he will learn is that violence is the method adults use to solve their problems, and he will grow up using violence to solve his own problems.

Parents who beat their children do so because they lack self-control and because they are not disciplined themselves. They haven’t taken the time to plan appropriate consequences, and many times they are too self-centered to carry through with age-appropriate discipline.

It is hard work to teach a toddler that his behavior is not acceptable. It takes time and patience. Hitting is easy and fast, and many parents justify the hitting because of the child’s misbehavior or rebellion.

Using a belt on a twenty-month-old child is child abuse. In some countries, marks left on a child of any age can cause the child to be removed from the parents’ custody. It is never right to use a belt, an electrical cord, or anything else to beat a child or a teenager.

Various child-rearing methods of discipline are effective, but they are not easy or fast. A loving parent invests the time and energy that it takes to discipline appropriately. We recommend that you and your husband find classes to attend at a local university, health center, or community center. We also recommend that you read books on the subject. Dr. James Dobson has written classic books on this subject that have stood the test of time. Finally, read Cases 26, 87, and 237 at message2conscience.com for some additional ideas.

We wish you well,