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Washing a Child's Mouth Out with Soap
Q: My friend washes her six-year-old son's mouth out with soap when he curses. Sometimes she makes him swallow a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce. He seems unfazed and doesn't change his behavior. Shouldn't this kind of discipline be left in the Stone Age?
A: Your friend's response to her son's behavior isn't discipline; it's cruelty. Her son is learning to be a stoic by taking his mom's abusive response to his misbehavior without showing any weakness. Of course, the Tabasco sauce burns his mouth and esophagus; it's a dangerous practice and any doctor would agree that it's physically harmful to do this to a child.
Your friend is humiliating her son and in so doing she is breeding anger, resentment, and revenge in him. He's made up his mind that she will not "break" him with these punishments and she may in fact be fueling more of his bad behavior, as this becomes his way of getting back at her. Unless she tries to substitute building a relationship with her son, this power struggle will continue and become worse. If there were any way that you or another adult could help her to attend some parenting courses, you would be doing a great service for their relationship and his well-being.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.