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Early Childhood Educator Says His Most Difficult Students Are The Kids Who Are Strictly Disciplined At Home

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mom strictly disciplining her child

So-called "gentle parenting" and "responsive parenting" are often controversial, with many feeling they are far too lenient approaches that produce ill-behaved kids. But one school administrator says it is actually the exact opposite. 

The early childhood educator insisted that strictly disciplined kids are the most difficult to manage in school.

Modern approaches to child-rearing, like gentle parenting and responsive parenting, are psychologist-developed methods that avoid strict discipline, yelling, and punishment in favor of calm correction and boundary-setting that takes into account young brains' level of mental and emotional development.

However, they are controversial among many parents. A perfect example is the recent uproar that arose on TikTok when therapist and author KC Davis explained why she did not yell at her 3-year-old when she drew on the wall in their home. 

   

   

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Davis's video was flooded with angry commenters who insisted she needed to crack the whip on her toddler — in some cases literally, urging her to use physical punishment — with many accusing her of raising an insolent and disrespectful child who is likely a nightmare at school.

Of course, like anything, these new parenting approaches can be taken too far, and a backlash has been brewing against parents who use them to avoid conflict and discipline entirely.

But Travis Manley, an early childhood development administrator, argued that when it comes to kids having discipline problems at school, it is not gentle-parented children who have trouble behaving.

Manley said he can tell which kids are strictly disciplined because they immediately act out when away from their parents. 

"I can tell within a week of meeting a kid how they are disciplined at home," Manley said. "I can tell if their parents are yellers, I can tell if their parents take every little thing super seriously, I can tell if they get yelled at or spanked for writing on walls." 

   

   

He went on to say that it's not because these kids are "super polite and well mannered," but rather "because they're some of our hardest kids to work with." 

Manley explained that strict parents "think [their kids] are gonna go off into the world and be super respectful and cordial with authority," but it is actually the opposite — the moment they are away from home with adults they know are "safe" and won't yell at them, every impulse they have had to suppress at home is "just gonna explode in that other environment."

It's like being refused cookies at home. The minute you go somewhere that has cookies, you start scarfing down cookies as fast as you can.

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Manley explained that this is because strict discipline is quite literally incongruent with what little kids' brains are able to understand. 

Using Davis' example of her child writing on the wall, he explained, "Your logic is all [messed] up to that 3-year-old" because to her, coloring on a wall "is full of joy and wonder."

That doesn't mean you just let them color on the wall, but screaming at them as if they willfully did something terrible makes no sense to them. It's terrifying to a child who just thinks they did something joyful and full of wonder.

   

   

Punishing kids for this confusion teaches them to ignore their emotions in favor of blind, fear-based obedience, stunting their development and often resulting in lifelong negative mental health impacts. 

Manley said that instead, he and his colleagues explain that writing on the wall isn't allowed and then redirect them to paper, or a chalkboard, or whatever activity they need to get the drawing-on-the-wall impulse out of their system.

He says, "Kids who aren't being disciplined with fear at home" take to this kind of gentle, simple redirection almost immediately. In contrast, "the kids who are screamed at at home for that same behavior … it might take a year of me working on that."

The bottom line is that children are simply not equipped to have an adult's perception of anything — that's why they spend years coloring, playing games, and singing songs at school instead of listening to lectures in the first place.

Their brains are limited, and their misbehavior stems not from insolence or disrespect but rather from their brains simply having not yet developed an understanding of their emotions and impulses. 

As Manley bluntly put it to the parents raking Davis over the coals, "Stop making moral dilemmas out of developmental realities." You can yell at your kids all you want, but all their brains are going to register is confusion and fear.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.