Today’s discussion is about how to scold your children, led by Keio University School of Medicine Pediatrics Professor Dr. Takao Takahashi. If you search “how to scold children” online, there are a variety of different articles and opinions on this topic, but Dr. Takahashi believes that there is no one correct answer. Conducting this interview is one of our Birth Preparation website editors and father of one, Staff I.
Could bad scolding affect my child’s development?
I: It’s inevitable that parents encounter scenarios where they have to scold their child. Yet just as often, we wonder how we should do so, or worry what would happen if we go overboard. Because of this, for today’s discussion I would like to ask you about how to scold children.
Dr. Takahashi: How to scold them... While there are countless cases of abuse that should not be minimized, in general I feel that parents are scolding their children less. There is a negative image associated with this action, and a trend towards being overly careful about scolding. Yet, your feelings of being worried about what would happen to your child if you go overboard are valid and true to an extent. It is possible that it can turn to abuse.
I: I thought so. I want them to grow and thrive, and I’m worried that scolding them will diminish that...
Dr. Takahashi: Yes, but worrying too much is also a problem. If parents and even school teachers are intimidated by the idea of scolding, we will become a society where adults cannot scold children at all. While there is no single right way to scold, we are currently in a time where scolding is seen as negative, and therefore it is crucial now more than ever to put in some thought about how to do so.
I: I see. Back when we were children, there was definitely a different perspective on scolding. Good or bad aside, it was common to get scolded a lot... I myself have experience getting scolded a lot by adults.
Dr. Takahashi: I don’t think that’s bad. If you’re going to get scolded, you want that to happen while you’re still a kid. It’s too late in most instances if you’re already an adult!
This is an aside, but I think it’s getting even harder to achieve probatio diabolica (devil’s proof) these days.
I: Probatio diabolica is where it’s difficult to disprove the existence of something, right? So you mean it’s getting more difficult to say something doesn’t exist?
Dr. Takahashi: Yes. At least, I think it’s happening in the medical field. For example, it’s getting more difficult to tell a worried hospital patient that they are not ill.
I: Why is it difficult?
Dr. Takahashi: Patients come to the hospital because they have cause for worry. They may have even gathered all sorts of information from the internet. Parents bring their children to pediatricians because they are worried too. But even if I listen carefully and examine them thoroughly, I may not find any abnormalities. It’s not uncommon for the patient to seem fine.
Dr. Takahashi: It’s our job as doctors to explain thoroughly and convincingly, and to reassure the parents in these situations. It’s difficult to just convince these worried parents that “there’s no need to worry,” “it’s not an illness,” or “they are sick but there’s no need for treatment,” “they need treatment but there’s no need to worry.” Just like in devil’s proof, it’s incomparably more difficult to explain that something doesn’t exist rather than that it does exist, or in our case that there isn’t something to be worried about.
I: I see.
Dr. Takahashi: If we rule that there is no illness when there actually is, it would be a misdiagnosis. In some cases, there are consequences for this. Because of this, some doctors may hesitate to rule definitively that there is no illness and say things like let’s do some testing, or wait to see what happens in 3 months, etc.
I: It’s like a sort of safety net.
Dr. Takahashi: Exactly. Misdiagnosis and failure to recognize illnesses is still a huge problem. However, being able to tell a patient clearly when there isn’t anything wrong is also a big part of being a doctor. It allows us to reassure our patients and their families as soon as possible. For example in pediatric medicine, a child suspected of having cerebral palsy may walk normally a year and a half later, or a child diagnosed with an intellectual disability may be able to attend school normally. Though these are not generally considered misdiagnoses, they may cause great unnecessary strain to the parents or the patient themselves for years. Saying a problem exists when it doesn’t is also a huge misdiagnosis.
I: You may be right. Living every day believing that a problem exists, or that it might exist, when it actually doesn’t would bring the patient and their family great anxiety.
Dr. Takahashi: There are many cases where the patient’s anxiety and worry are prolonged or worsened because the doctor avoids making a concrete diagnosis. What a doctor truly needs is not just the ability to diagnose or treat, but rather the ability to persuade. The ability to calm and reassure the patient with the right words as soon as possible. As AI technology begins to take over, I believe that a doctor’s real job will become convincing and assuring patients. But, in this age where getting sued is a real threat, doctors are doubting themselves, thinking that they may be wrong, or that they may be blamed for their input. In the same way, parents who hesitate to scold for fear of criticism from others may suffer unexpected negative effects.
I: Ah, so that’s the connection!
A Parent’s Leadership
Dr. Takahashi: Scolding may backfire if you do it wrong. If done too harshly, discipline can be perceived as abuse. Sometimes it actually is abuse, but if you are too scared to scold, you will not be able to do so when it is actually necessary. This may be obvious, but it is necessary to scold. And there is no “right” method to do so. Is this method good? That is something parents need to take responsibility and decide for themselves, just as doctors must take responsibility, decide and diagnose.
I: So the parents are responsible for deciding when to scold and how much.
Dr. Takahashi: Exactly. And that’s why parents cannot get swept up by their emotions, and scold with conviction. The goal is to communicate to make the child understand. Will the child really benefit from getting scolded in this way? Parents should observe the child’s reaction and their actions afterward to judge this.
I: That judgement on whether the scolding was effective is so important.
Dr. Takahashi: Though there is no wrong way to scold, you cannot forget to scold in a way that your child will understand. That is, a scolding parent must show leadership when doing so. I’ll use the doctor example again, but doctors must have leadership as well. And what is leadership? At Keio University School of Medicine, we use the word “independence” a lot.
I: What do you mean by that?
Dr. Takahashi: To put it simply, it means to to not be swayed by the opinions of others or current trends, to make your own decisions and take responsibility for your actions. It is said that this important word was passed down to the founder of Keio University’s School of Medicine Shibasaburo Kitasato from Dr. Yukichi Fukuzawa. Kitasato, who was enrolled at Tokyo University at the time, disagreed with a “distinguished professor’s” theory and was expelled. That’s when Dr. Fukuzawa extended a helping hand, and taught him the word “independence.” In modern times, I think we would refer to this as leadership. Doctors must demonstrate leadership in the medical field. They must be prepared to take responsibility for their actions, and save their patients. The spirit of “independence” is important to us. In the same way, I believe parents must demonstrate leadership to their children.
I: So they must take responsibility for their parenting, and decide for themselves whether or not they need to scold their children.
Dr. Takahashi: Exactly! Others will say this, parenting books will say that, and in general parents are scolding less nowadays――instead of worrying about all that, decide for yourself, and scold if you think it’s necessary. Face the child in front of you. You are responsible for them, their leader, their parent. You know them well, and generally you will make the right decision. Have confidence in your decisions.
I: It’s better to not doubt your own decisions.
Dr. Takahashi: If you feel that your child will suffer consequences in the future if you don’t say something now, say it. For example, if your child has an unbalanced diet (beyond just personal preferences or needs), help them improve little by little. When you make a decision as the “leader,” make sure you communicate your thoughts to your child. That is what “scolding” is. If you leave every decision to your child and let them do as they please, you will relinquish your leadership. While it is valuable to let your child demonstrate leadership in some scenarios, parents must be the overall leaders.
I: Letting your child grow freely and letting them do whatever they want are two different things.
Dr. Takahashi: Indeed. It is a parent’s duty to raise their children. The act of scolding is about persuasion, and how to make the child understand. In a way, scolding should be a “gift” from parent to child. The child must accept and understand it. I hope that all our readers will be able to give this “gift” to their children with love.
I: Indeed! Thank you for your talk today!
Dr. Takao Takahashi
Keio University School of Medicine, Head Professor of Pediatrics, Medical Doctor specializing in General Pediatrics and Pediatric Neurology
After graduating from Keio University School of Medicine in 1982, Dr. Takahashi served in the Department of Pediatric Neurology at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital and as a neurology lecturer at Harvard Medical School. He returned to Japan in 1994, and has been active as both doctor and professor at Keio University Pediatrics since. His hobby is running, and his best marathon time is 3 hours 7 minutes at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon, earning the nickname of “fastest pediatric professor in Japan”.