The race was a hotly anticipated one of the tortoise versus the hare. The hare looked very good and quite fast. The tortoise looked plain, slow, and generally boring. The hare was the crowd favorite and as soon as the pistol sounded, the hare tore out of the starting gate to develop a large lead while the tortoise slowly started forward. The hare, however, saw that he had a large lead and decided to relax a bit. He would relax until he saw the slow and steady tortoise coming into view and then the hare would dash off again until he had re-established his large lead. This happened a few times until the hare fell asleep during one of his relaxation periods. The tortoise passed him and ended up winning the race despite the hare waking up and making one last furious attempt to regain the lead.
Parenting is a lot like the tortoise and the hare. There is the hare style of parenting where the discipline looks real good in a crisis and includes swift and immediate punishment when children misbehave. Promises are made at this point that the behavior will not be tolerated and that things will be different this time. Of course, just like the hare, the discipline tends to relax until another crisis situation comes up. The cycle continues to repeat where parents become disciplinarians when a crisis occurs but become less consistent during times where little misbehaviors are tolerated. In the end, like the hare, children and parents lose. They lose as the parent has been inconsistent in parenting and children become confused and decide to ignore all attempts by the parent to discipline them. This usually coincides with the time a child becomes bigger and more difficult to physically control.
Parenting looks quite different with the tortoise style of parenting. Tortoise style parenting relies on a good consistent pace of consequences for misbehaviors, large and small. The pace of discipline is helped by the parents’ consistent enforcement of rules that both children and the parents know. One example rule is where children don’t hit their parents, no matter what. If they do, they go to time-out immediately with no warning. This rule is absolute and is immediate. A tortoise style parent will enforce this rule wherever they are, including a department store. This type of parenting is not for the faint of heart as the department store time-out always elicits stares and whispered accusations from other adults. However, this approach will soon ensure that children know there are no exceptions to the rules and the misbehaviors should be minimized in the future.
Just like the tortoise in the story, parents who adopt the tortoise style of parenting will have to endure some uncomfortable situations early on for enforcing the rules. However, the slow and steady consistency of disciplining children will pay dividends in the end. We highly recommend the tortoise style of parenting, as slow and steady wins the race and doesn’t leave you out of breath and exasperated like the hare style of parenting.
This article was published in the Richmond Register Health Beat Magazine in November 2010.