Last week, I debunked the myth that positive parents just want to be friends with their children. You can read that post here. This week, I want to address the idea that we simply don’t discipline our children. “But kids need discipline” is a recurrent comment on my Facebook page, and I must say that I absolutely agree. Kids DO need discipline! So do teachers, firefighters, artists, store managers, farmers, - every responsible, productive human being. So, the question is, what is discipline and how do we make sure our kids have it?
If you look up the definition for discipline today, you’re going to get something along the lines of “to punish or rebuke for an offense,” which I think is an unfortunate twist of the original Latin meaning, “instruction or knowledge.” I almost never punish my kids, but I do offer a lot of instruction and knowledge (which I wouldn’t do if I were permissive). Therefore, I definitely discipline my children, just not in the same way as many, and there’s a reason for that. The conventional way of discipline, to punish for an offense, is problematic for several reasons:
Quick-fix: By doling out an immediate punishment, we’ve skipped right over an attempt at understanding the cause of the behavior and what the child may need taught or helped with in favor of a quick-fix solution to make the behavior stop. Unfortunately, when we miss the cause or need behind the behavior, we’ve missed a key opportunity to help the child learn to understand and control himself, and ultimately I think that’s the real goal here – a child who is self-disciplined (who doesn’t need a parent following her around enforcing rules). We want them to know how to do what’s right when we aren’t there with our threats and parental power, yet we undermine our own efforts when we skip the teaching what’s right part in favor of the quick fix.
Missed connection: It’s clear that punishing children causes a disconnection between us and them, but most parents feel that the disconnection is necessary in order to teach the child a lesson. Ironically, connection is the very thing that makes children follow our rules, heed our instruction, and want to do well. In addition, the benefits of connection (attachment) is well-documented, and leads to higher self-confidence, resilience, social skills, and emotional health. When we approach a behavioral issue with the intent to understand and teach rather than to make the child pay, we can discipline while maintaining our crucial connection.
Wrong focus: Punishment often makes children focus more on their own suffering than on the effects of their behavior. In her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, Dr. Becky Bailey says this, “You cannot simultaneously feel bad about what you have done and focus on what you must do differently.” In this way, punishment actually shuts down learning, and the lesson we are trying to teach is lost on a resentful child. Sadly, for some children, punishment makes them feel so badly that they begin to believe they are bad people, and when that gets into a child’s self-concept, he will behave the way he sees himself. Psychologists refer to this as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Those are the reasons I have chosen to discipline differently, with the intent to instruct and impart knowledge rather than to punish. To be clear, I have had to allow consequences that teach because, as we all know, poor behavior has negative consequences, but these are natural consequences that I don’t have to impose or a result of a solution that my child and I have arrived at together. If you’re wondering what I do instead of punishment, take at a look at these 3 alternatives to the old time-out I used to use.
Positive parents discipline in an unconventional way, but the idea that we don’t discipline at all is FALSE. In fact, I spend a good amount of time each day disciplining my children. It can be confusing to understand how to discipline without relying on punishment. It took a while for me to fully understand it, too. Once I did understand the reasons for connection, finding the need behind the behavior, teaching appropriate alternatives, and looking for solutions to problems, it became much easier to discipline my children positively, and I really feel that the benefits have been great for us all.
The links provided in the article will provide some insight into alternative methods of discipline. For more, pick up The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting and Positive Parenting in Action.
For more of my Positive Parenting articles, click here.