One question was uppermost in the thoughts of the women who were helping to resettle a Laotian refugee family of seven children ranging in ages from a little over one to 16 years. "How do they govern their children?" the women wondered. "You never hear them scold or punish, yet the children are so well-behaved."
The children were healthy, active, and intelligent, yet a whole year passed, and no one is known to have seen them argue or squabble. The whole family spent most of their time in the small living room. The older children were usually working on homework with absolute concentration, while the younger ones played around them under the watchful eye of their mother. Yet I never heard either parent give any directive, and only heard a reprimand once.
Only the baby occasionally grabbed at a toy or cried for something he wanted. I watched this for some time before I realized that each time he did this, the mother picked him up and went with him to another room. There was no reprimand; just a calm removal from the scene. When he was again happy and smiling, she brought him back. By the time he reached three years he would have learned that if he wanted the society of others, he must behave in a socially acceptable way. And what a way that was!
Quiet voices and smiling faces made it a pleasure to visit there. One child might stretch out a gentle hand toward an object in the possession of another. The possessor might relinquish it at once or keep it several more minutes. In either case there was no fuss, and no parental voice chiding or admonishing. Only baby Oula seemed to need discipline.
On only one occasion he was not removed from the scene for crying; this was when all members of the family were looking eagerly at snapshots of themselves just brought to them by a friend. The baby clamored and cried, even jumped up and down, yet no one paid the slightest attention to him. Finally he gave up and removed himself a little way from the others. Then he was allowed to see some of the pictures. He received absolutely nothing for all his clamor, not even the attention of a scolding!
This quiet discipline of the youngest did not appear to be a conscious method , but rather a part of their culture, so deeply ingrained that no other way of child-rearing would have occurred to them.
The family has now moved away from our frigid winters to a warmer climate. But how we miss the smiling, gentle faces of Boupha, Soda, Tungsa, Phinla, and the others! May they have the wisdom to keep what is good in their own culture as they so enthusiastically plunge into their new life here