Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Discipline vs. Punishment

It's very easy as parents to use these two terms interchangeably and to assume that disciplining our kids means punishing them.


To punish means:
to subject to pain, loss, confinement, death, etc., as a penalty for some offense, transgression, or fault, to inflict a penalty for, to handly severely or roughly.

Discipline means:
training to act in accordance with rules, activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training

Let's look at the definition of another word, manipulation: to adapt or change to suit one's purpose or advantage.

I'm not suggesting that punishment cannot be effective or appropriate in certain circumstances but as a primary source of discipline I believe punishment is manipulation. Essentially we are trying to adapt or change our children's behavior to suit a purpose, usually ours.

When my daughter is yelling at me because she is angry I can choose to do a few things. I could yell back at her and send her to her room, I could calmly send her to her room, or I could sit down and talk with her about being respectful, expressing her anger in a better way, etc. Yelling back is the instinctive thing to do because I'm irritated with her behavior and sending her to her room gets her out of my hair. But what does it teach her? Essentially that she is not allowed to be angry but I am. That I will not allow her to yell but I am free to.

If I choose to sit her down, find out why she's angry and talk calmly about respecting others she learns that I respect her feelings, she learns how to treat others and we can hopefully fix the issue of why she was angry in the first place.

It's very easy to tell our kids what NOT to do but discipline comes in teaching them what we DO expect. The goal of discipline is not to control our kids but to teach them to grow up into respectful, caring, confident adults. We want them to do the right thing because it feels right to them, not because they might get sent to their room, get a spanking or a time out, or lose a privilege.

Typically if my kids aren't listening, are being disrespectful, whining, etc. I can usually pin point it to two things. My own behavior and the time I've spent, or haven't with them. Children learn how to act from what they're taught. If I reprimand them for yelling or talking back I better make sure I haven't taught them to act that way by responding that way to them. And usually, that's the case. I always find my kids are much better behaved when I've really invested in the day. If I haven't then they're constantly seeking my attention in anyway possible and whining, yelling, fighting all get my attention.

Most people I know use either spankings or time outs as a form of punishment. I used to spank but stopped nearly 2 years ago because I realized it was nearly impossible for me not to spank in anger. I also didn't feel like it was teaching my kids anything. At least not anything I wanted to instill in them. I felt like for me, it was lazy parenting. It was the quickest thing to do and I didn't have to spend anytime thinking of a different solution to curb their behavior. Did it really teach them not to commit the offense again? Well, with as many times as they were spanked for the same things, obviously not. It did help in curbing the offense while I was around but was being secretive and sneaky what I really wanted them to learn from it? No.

There have still been a few times since then the girls have been spanked and mostly that's because it was so deeply ingrained in me it was hard to break the habit but I really do believe it was not something that was ever affective. The biggest thing I could see is that it created resentment. I know there are people that follow the "spare the rod, spoil the child" mentality but I believe that verse, which does not state it that way, is misused. I do not believe my children will be spoiled by choosing not to spank them. Let's remember that "rod" is also used in Psalm 23. That's another post though, right? :)

I am not perfect BY ANY MEANS. I yell too much, I'm short with them and sometimes it's easy to just say, "because I said so" but I am really striving to be a better parent and find more positive ways of dealing with them. I wrote on here a while back a quote from a book I read called, "How to Really Parent Your Child, Anticipating what a child needs instead of reacting to what a child does" by Ross Campbell and I remind myself of it frequently.

He says, "There is ultimately nothing strong or leaderlike about imposing authority on a child. Rather, it takes a great deal more self discipline and momentary wisdom to recognize the child's need and help him or her meet it."

I have to consciously remind myself of these things or I find myself slipping back into familiar ways. I can't say old ways because I still find myself using punishment frequently instead of exhausting other positive forms of discipline first. Something I read yesterday said to use I Corinthians 13 and the verses on love and replace the word "love" with "I". Makes a huge difference thinking of it that way. To really be able to say, I am patient, I am kind... in dealing with my kids.


MJ said...

I just have to say that I agree with you completely, especially about how hard it is to discipline positively. I took a parenting class and one of the many things I learned is that my goal as a parent should be to help my child learn to deal with their emotions appropriately.

Often times kids are misbehaving because they lack the vocabulary or knowledge on how to deal with what they are feeling. By helping them understand what they are feeling and how they can express it correctly you give them tools that will help them throughout their whole life.

It seems to me that when parents discipline their children with negative consequences the only thing they are really teaching them is to be compliant. I would much rather have a child that can tell me what is bothering them than just listen to me because they are afraid of what I will do to them.

It is really hard though to make the changes necessary to becoming a more effective parent. I find myself falling back into old habits so quickly, it is easier to yell than to sit down and try to calmly work through things.

I am hoping by the time she is ready to leave the house I will have it all figured out.

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