Q: With all of the attention being given to domestic violence and abuse in the last few months, my wife has said, No football ever! for our 7- and 5-year-old sons. I understand these are important topics, but how I can I help her see that calling all football players bad guys and saying football is evil isn’t good for anyone?
A: It is understandable that your wife may feel disenchanted with football and outraged about recent cases involving NFL players. It can be difficult to see and hear about these cases of domestic violence and child abuse being committed by idolized public figures. The first step may be to ask your wife what her concerns are and then listen closely to her response. If you hear her out completely, she may be more likely to hear you out.
The game of football itself is not the problem. If that were the case, many other games that are physical, such as hockey, should be banned as well. The problem lies with the choices made by these football players, and some might say, the choices made by the team owners and the commissioner of the NFL.
It would be helpful for your sons to learn from both you and your wife that domestic violence and child abuse is hurtful on many levels, and that people who are violent and abusive need to learn other ways to deal with their frustration and anger. This would be a great opportunity for a discussion about emotions, such as anger, and coping skills to deal with these emotions. You both might talk with your boys about different kinds of feelings and their impact on a person’s behavior. Then, discuss some healthy coping skills to help deal with these emotions.
It is important, however, that before you have these discussions with your children, that you and your wife come to an agreement on how you want to address this issue. Your support for each other will allow you both to support your children.
Q: I have a family friend who uses corporal punishment as a part of her discipline plan for her 5-year-old daughter. She has spanked her child in front of mine, and my child is asking questions about it. What should I say?
A: Children are curious about the world around them and will often ask questions about what is new and different to them. It is important to address these, as this will help children learn to make choices of their own that fit with their own beliefs and values.
You might start by letting your daughter know that parents have different rules and discipline for their children. Explain to her that you don’t feel as though corporal punishment is helpful, and that your job is to help her to understand what is expected, and why it is important. For example, it is not a good idea to jump on the sofa or bed because it can damage the furniture and it is not safe. Make clear that you and your family friend’s mother have chosen a different way to discipline in your households and that choice is up to her.
You might then give your child space to talk about how seeing this type of punishment might make her feel and validate those feelings. She may need to hear that she is safe from this type of punishment. A feeling of safety is one of the most important things you can do to enhance your daughter’s development and strengthen your relationship.
You may also want to praise your daughter for coming to you with something that she did not understand and encourage her to continue to do so.