Grunting Pigs and Crying Children

Only two were left when the new director of the home for orphaned children cleared the shelves in his new office and he quickly passed them along, as a reminder of past history, to a friend. They were well crafted with handles made for easy grasping and with holes drilled in the shafts for more effect. They were, it should be noted, well worn from use.

This new Director, a person with both the ability to understand the behavior of those in his charge and a grasp of biblical directives that steered him more to compassion than cruelty, had no use for the wooden paddles previously and frequently used to carry out discipline. He, and the staff he gathered, would not view frightened, vulnerable and fragile children, some holding onto their last shreds of identity with defiance, as creatures to be beaten into submission.

Such a shift in thinking and action however has not come easily to the family of man who for countless centuries of time has found the use of physical force to shape children’s behavior too readily available. It should not, however, come as a great surprise that little positive learning has resulted from corporal punishment. The reverse is more often the case. Countless social, medical, psychological, ethical and yes, theological perspectives, through research and the following throughout life spans have all too often noted higher rates of negative social behavior and violent actions in children who were too frequently disciplined by force when compared to those who were not so managed. With such information readily available, it would seem only logical that corporal punishment, certainly in places, such as schools and religious settings, where children are brought to learn and model behavior, would have disappeared eons ago. That is not the case. In many public schools in this country, corporal punishment is alive and well.

There is an old Danish proverb that goes like this: “Give to a pig when it grunts and a child when it cries and you will have a fine pig and a bad child.”

We humans still have a lot to learn about the very earliest needs and behavior of children. Ignoring the cries of the young child may have been a proverbial norm but it has done nothing to engender trust and provide comfort. What does help shape the environment of trust and comfort is discipline that is critical to  the shaping of a child’s behavior. Discipline, however, is not punishment, it is teaching. Teaching takes more time, demands more energy, calls forth more understanding and requires a massive amount of patience. But children are worth that effort. Children are worth the time spent to calm their fears, strengthen their trust and feed their world with laughter, song, direction and expectations. Children are not like pigs just waiting for the next meal and they are not endowed with armor that protects them from physical assault.

So, the paddles from that one orphan’s home are silent and the atmosphere in that one place a model for what discipline is all about. When the rest of the world catches up to those notions, children will have more opportunities to benefit from safe, directing and thriving environments where their cries will be properly addressed and pigs – well, pigs will still be fed!

About Olson Huff, MD

Olson Huff is a pediatrician, author, husband, father of three sons and grandfather of four dynamic and growing grandchildren. Often described as a visionary leader and eclectic thinker, his efforts have always been to acknowledge the power, value and delight to be found in ALL children. As a pediatrician he has used his skills as a clinician to provide healing, as an author his words to reveal the spirit of children and as an advocate to plead their case from the state house of politics to the White House of policy changes. His vision is that ALL children will have the very best start in life from their earliest years of development to the brightness of the future they aspire to shape. He believes ALL children have a right to affordable, quality health care, clean and safe environments and homes that cherish their presence.
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