Can Spanish style parenting help your unruly child?

Today I noticed my son’s scooter was inside the rubbish bin. If it’s in there, I’m not allowed to take it out until Wednesday morning, if at all.

Let me explain…

If my three year old misbehaves, he gets a warning from his Spanish dad. If he continues to misbehave, he gets a warning in a harsher tone of voice. Third strike, and his scooter goes in the bin. If he says sorry, gives Papa a kiss and starts to behave nicely, he gets his scooter back. On Wednesday mornings the rubbish men arrive, and Papa’s threats become a lot more serious.

Welcome to Spanish style parenting.

My expat child's scooter
Also seen in rubbish bins

The four strike method

This morning my child, Sebastian, woke up in a mood. Getting up at 6am instead of his usual 7.15am may explain his behaviour. First he wanted the Spiderman socks, then the Superman socks, then he demanded the socks that his brother was wearing. After two costume changes and some serious whining, enough was enough. He got his first warning. Strike one. More whining. Strike two. Kicking feet, stamping, hitting. Scooter in the bin.

I’m just relieved he didn’t reach stage four – the cold shower. In case you’re concerned, the cold shower tactic is reserved for only the strongest of tantrums and isn’t really a cold shower but a cool rinse down, and is followed by lots of kisses, cuddles and gentle words of love.

The tepid shower

A cold (tepid) shower is not about punishment, but flicking the tantrum switch. It’s for those moments where the child can’t even remember why they were crying, when they can’t get out of their tantrum spiral.

As a mum, I feel that punishments should never be implemented when a parent is in an overly tense state of mind. Like any parent, I’ve had moments when I’ve felt I was about to lose it, but then I’ve walked into another room and taken a deep breath. A cold shower by a stressed, angry parent doesn’t correct a tantrum. It’s an abuse of power. It’s child abuse.

If you’re wondering, after a cold shower there has never been a need for a stage five. In fact, Sebastian has only ever had one cold (tepid) shower in his three years, and I hope it will be at least another three before his next hose down, if at all.

Of course, it’s wrong to generalise that all Spanish families follow my husband’s model, but as a British mum I have noticed differences in the way that the Spanish bring up their kids.

The limits are wider, but the guidelines are firmer

Children go to bed late, they eat sweets (a lot), they run around and they scream. However, in my view, on the whole, they are better behaved.

As my brother-in-law said to me ‘children need limits, and as parents we must set consistent limits’. A set routine, clear guidelines and defined limits is surely stabilising for a child.

positive discipline
Respect the guidelines

I once wondered if Spanish children are just better behaved because the limits are set much wider. If you’re going to bed at 11pm, then why bother to complain? But kids always try to push the boundaries, don’t they? Testing the limits is a normal stage of development. So why not whine to stay up a little later? Because Papa says no. And he means no.

More kids = less hassle?

My Spanish in-laws form a large family (my husband is one of ten) and I’m sure that the sheer weight of numbers also helps in terms of discipline. With so many kids on the loose, breakfast riots are just not an option.

It’s a bit like larger dogs who are generally better behaved than tiny yappy dogs. If a small dog jumps up, you pick it up; if a large dog jumps up, you discipline it. Add to this older children who reinforce the boundaries for the young and you have yourself a virtuous family circle.

Children at the heart of daily life

As you’d imagine with a Mediterranean family, kids are very much the centre of daily life and are very involved. Parents take parenting very seriously. Most fine dining restaurants have high chairs, changing facilities and waiters that coo at babies. There is a lot of open affection, kissing, hugging and adults playing alongside their kids.

We tell our children how much we love them all the time. My children wake up and go to sleep hearing the words ‘I love you’.

attachment parenting
Mornings are reserved for cuddles and espresso

Not to everyone’s taste

Of course Spanish style parenting is not for everyone and there are elements which aren’t for me.

The relaxed attitude to healthy eating is my biggest bugbear. I’ll be honest, I was shocked when a friend took an apple away from her child and forced him to eat his ice cream. I’ve now learned that it’s not that the Spanish don’t care about healthy food for their kids, they just believe that a child’s education is more important. My friend’s argument was that he should finish the dessert he had chosen first.

I’m intrigued to know if all Spanish parents follow this principle, however loosely, or if it’s just my husband’s family and friends. If you’re Spanish and reading this, do let me know. Perhaps his model extends to other nationalities too? Can any Italian, Portuguese or Latino parents fill me in?

Rules are rules

It may be that my son is going through a stage, that he isn’t sleeping brilliantly, so we need to be understanding with his meltdowns. Tantrums are a normal part of child development.

However rules are rules, or at least Spanish rules are Spanish rules. Last night my kids were brilliantly behaved and Papa has promised them a fun day out to the park in return. Sebastian will be riding on his Scooter.

positive parenting for expats
Vamos, Papa!

1 Comment

  1. Adrian Worbis
    February 9, 2021 / 10:59 pm


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