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by Abigail Van Buren

Siblings Feel Abandoned by Their Widowed Mother

DEAR ABBY: I am only 24, but consider myself an old-fashioned parent. My wife and I have three daughters who are the center of our lives. Everywhere we go, we are complimented on how well-behaved our children are. When asked for our "secret," we tell the truth -- we use the belt to keep our children in line. When I was a child, my mom did the same with me, and I know it's more help than harm.

The problem is, as soon as people hear it they assume we simply beat our kids into submission. How can I help people understand that discipline and abuse are two different things? -- JOHN IN SAVANNAH

DEAR JOHN: Abuse and discipline ARE two different things. Abuse is punishment. Discipline teaches -- and helps a child to eventually become self-disciplined. Using a belt on your little girls shows them that violence is acceptable -- and that they can expect it from you, just as you learned it was acceptable from your parents.

There are more effective ways to communicate with children than by hitting them with belts. Grounding them, taking away toys, cell phone and television privileges are effective, nonviolent and preferable means of letting a child know that certain behaviors are unacceptable.