DEAR ABBY: I am writing about your response to "John in Savannah" (Feb. 1), the 24-year-old man who is unsure how to explain to people that using a belt to discipline his three little girls is different from abuse.
Sometimes, in order to teach that actions or behaviors are inappropriate, some form of punishment, whether it's a spanking or a time-out, becomes necessary. I give my children three chances when they misbehave. If they continue, they are punished. They know that there will be consequences if they do wrong. Like John's children, mine are also frequently praised for being courteous and well-behaved.
Small children do not understand long-term punishment like grounding, taking away toys, etc. By the time the duration of that kind of discipline has passed, the child has forgotten the reason for it. For young children to understand the consequences of wrong behavior, the measures must be swift and short-term.
John should answer those who ask by saying he uses "consistent discipline accompanied by corporal punishment when necessary." If more parents did the same as John and me, we'd have fewer behavior problems in schools. -- MOM IN CONTROL IN GAINESVILLE
DEAR MOM IN CONTROL: Thank you for commenting. However, I stand by my position that there are more effective ways to discipline a child than by using physical punishment. After printing "John in Savannah's" letter, I was flooded with mail from parents and adult children across the country. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: Are John's children obeying because they are making good choices or because they are afraid of the belt? Also, does he realize how badly he is hurting his children, both physically and emotionally? When you strike someone with an object, you have no idea how hard you are really hitting. Also, the humiliation of being beaten could last those kids a lifetime.
Honestly, it takes more effort to come up with corrections other than spanking, but it is well worth it. We post our family rules and their consequences in plain view. Part of my son's allowance depends upon making good choices at home and at school. And yes -- it does work. My son just brought home his report card with excellent marks for conduct. -- POSITIVELY REINFORCING IN MICHIGAN
DEAR ABBY: I think a little "old-fashioned discipline" is in order. I am a preschool teacher, and I am appalled at what the 2- and 3-year-olds do and say. Swearing, hitting and disrespect are only a sampling of the things that have made my jaw drop. Time-outs, revocations of privileges and "talks" are laughed at, and the bad behavior is not curbed.
Parents allow their children to get away with things my mom would have screamed at me for, and we teachers get the fallout. My experiences as a baby sitter for older kids were much the same. Should we be "nice" to our children so they can grow up without boundaries? I think not. -- SACRAMENTO EDUCATOR
DEAR ABBY: My father used a leather slipper on me instead of a belt. He also used his hand and his impressive vocabulary to keep me in line. Was I afraid of him? Absolutely! Did I love him? I am still not sure. I grew up to be a woman who is afraid of men, afraid of making a mistake, afraid to share myself and my ideas, and generally timid about life.
John's daughters are learning that the way men in their lives show love is to beat them. He is setting his girls up to marry an abuser because they think abuse is normal behavior. I hope John realizes soon that fear and love cannot share the same space in a child's heart. -- SURVIVOR FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE
To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)