We often ask our kids to write 1-3 paragraphs about why what they did was wrong. This way we know that there is understanding, and that they are willing to make a different choice in the future.
One minute everything is glorious; the house is clean, no one is crying, and kids are playing together. The next, it’s like a tornado spun threw and there’s marker on the walls, a book is ripped up, and one kid is hurt while someone else is screaming. What to do?
When our kids are disobedient, throw tantrums, or behave dangerously, rudely, disrespectfully or inappropriately, there ought to be consequences.
Common consequences given by parents include shame, punishment, and discipline.
Shame causes children to change thier behavior through negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. Shaming a child causes him/her to have feelings of humiliation or distress by making them aware of wrong or foolish behavior. Shame either directly or indirectly influences what the child believes about who or what he/she is and gives children a negative image about themselves rather than illuminating the impact of their behavior.
Children naturally feel guilt. Guilt says, “I did a bad thing.” Shame on the other hand says, “I am bad.”
Shame is a learned behavior. Messages of shame are mostly verbal, though looks of disapproval, disdain, contempt, or disgust are just as damaging. While we are all incapable of being 100 percent good all of the time, and we all do some bad things, shame is not a healthy way to parent a child.
Forgiveness is not present where shame is given.
Shame can damage a child’s self-esteem, understanding of their worth, your relationship with them, creative development and expression, leads to unmet emotional needs during critical periods of development, withdraw, numbness, hostility, and even addictive disorders, mental illness and emotional disorders.
Punishment is inflicting a form of suffering for an undesirable action or behavior. Punishment is usually given in anger or frustration, and in terms of parenting, often does not accurately reflect the action or behavior that was committed.
I believe that there is a place for both punishment and discipline, but most families punish too much and inappropriately, and discipline too little.
Punishment may be appropriate and effective when:
- The safety of a child is in jeopardy
- The use of reinforcement is not effective
- The problem behavior is frequently repeated and there is no positive behavior to reinforce
- Never be given in anger
- Always be preceded with a warning
- Be understood and directly related to the bad behavior
- Never result in physical injury (bruising, lacerations, broken bones, burns, etc.)
The word discipline means to teach. Discipline can be given as a form of redirection and is typically more directly related to the action or behavior committed.
Punishment focuses on suffering for past behaviors whereas disciple focuses on teaching and encouraging positive future behaviors.
Children of all ages need discipline to learn, to feel loved and cared for, and to develop their own understandings of the world and how/why to make choices. An overuse of punishment leads to fear, low self-esteem, and lack of cognitive development. Discipline builds character, understanding, cognitive development, and healthy parent-child relationships.
Discipline should happen out of love and a desire for the child’s positive, safe, and healthy development.
Loving discipline includes:
- A firm but non-threatening voice
- Eye contact (you may find it especially helpful to get down on the same level as your child)
- Good manners (asking your child to “please” do something
- Simple and specific steps
- As age appropriate, share the reason for your request
- Have the child repeat back what you have said to ensure understanding
- Praise (for starting and completing the task)
- Consistency and follow through (with discipline and rewards)
- Communication (talk with your child)
- Active listening
- Frequently monitoring your child
- Avoiding double standards
- Separating the bad behavior from the person
- Avoiding manipulation
- Unconditional love
- Prevention – Taking pro-active measures to helping your child operate within the boundaries and might include:
- Meeting your child’s physical needs and making sure that they are fed, rested, and comfortable
- Removing any elements that might overstimulate or overwhelm your child
- Setting expectations as appropriate and telling him/her ahead of time where you are going, what to expect, and what the consequences of disobedience will be
- Being consistent!
- Positive reinforcement – Presenting something positive when good behavior is exhibited in order to motivate the child to repeat the good behavior. For example, you praise your child for finishing his/her homework or you give your child a reward for cleaning his/her room.
- Negative reinforcement – Removing something (often something unpleasant) to encourage good behavior. For example, your child no longer has to sit at the table and may be allowed to leave after eating three bites of vegetables, you lift curfew restrictions when your child receives good grades, or you take away a toy that the kids are fighting over.
- Immediacy – The more immediate the delivery of reinforcement after the occurrence of behavior, the more effective the behavior.
- Time-out – Immediately sending the child to a relatively isolated place for a few minutes after each bad behavior.
- Grounding – Taking away some privilege(s) for a specific amount of time.
Understanding and reflection is key.
Remember, we’re trying to teach and train our children. If they don’t understand why they are being disciplined, it is of no use.