It is important as a parent to make a distinction between the use of punishments and discipline in helping teach your children effectively.
It is not always easy to work when one feels like playing. It is not easy to manage desires, or anger, but it is necessary. Parents have the responsibility to set boundaries for acceptable behavior for their kids, keeping their children’s impulsive behaviors within reasonable limits and giving them desirable direction. Gradually, a parent hopes that their children will assume more responsibility as they grow older and be more able to understand what is needed. If a child has had difficulty being responsible, as it is very much with young children, we take much of the responsibility for seeing that our kid does what they are supposed to do. As they become more responsible, you give them increased responsibilities. Often times a parent must establish how much freedom their child can handle and assist them in setting regulations and controls accordingly. These boundaries and expectations help our children to become more confident in their decision-making.
Parents have the responsibility to provide positive conditions of worth for the children in preparation for their launch into adulthood. We need to help them grow and develop good self-worth, while containing their unmitigated impulses.
Punishment vs. Discipline
It is important to distinguish between punishment and discipline when parenting your children. Webster defines punishment as “to impose a penalty on for a fault, offense or violation,” “to inflict a penalty for the commission of an offense in retribution or retaliation,” “to deal with harshly, to inflict injury upon or hurt.” Punishment is an act that one imposes on someone because they are very angry and wants the other person to feel pain to enhance personal satisfaction. Such behavior does not promote a safe learning environment.
Webster defines discipline as “instruction, teaching, learning, training that corrects, molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” Everyone needs discipline. This means direction and control of impulses. We understand this task of disciplining ourselves as we grow into adulthood.
Sound discipline grows out of experiences of mutual regulation; it is based on helping your child understand the consequences of their behavior as much and as soon as possible. One learns more rapidly when one can experience a consequence that bears a relation to the act. Penalties whose meanings are understood and definitions of what is acceptable behavior are all part of the guidance our kids need from us. Our children learn to respect us when we have a positive, respectful relationship with them. Good discipline is based on mutual respect and confidence.
If we are to discipline well, we must come out of a context, a foundation, of mutual care and love for our child. We must respect them as a human being and we must want them to succeed and prosper for themselves and not for our own needs to be respected or obeyed. This kind of attitude is very different from one in which we really think a child is a nuisance and we feel they ought to be taught a lesson, or be made to suffer for their negative behavior. Nothing we do will change the behavior, except for the worse, if we feel like this. Discipline must be goal-directed.
Suggestions for the Positive Use of Discipline
1. Take time for training. Make sure children understand what “clean the kitchen” means to you. To them it may mean simply putting the dishes in the sink. A parent may ask, “What is your understanding of what is expected?”
2. Teach and model mutual respect. One way is to be firm and kind at the same time: kind to show respect for the child, and firm to show respect for yourself and “the needs of the situation.” This is difficult during conflict, so use the next guideline whenever you can. If we are to discipline well, we must feel confidence in and respect for ourselves. A rather surprising thing is that the more we respect ourselves, the more we can respect others.
3. Self-respect is a good trait to have if you are going to be effective in your discipline. It enables you to feel more confidence when you say “no” (as we must do at times). You are sure of your right to set limits as a responsible parent. You trust your judgment. You are not so afraid of being wrong. You can afford to make mistakes. You know everyone makes mistakes. Making mistakes is one way to learn. We must accept POSITIVE CRITICISM from others. When you respect yourself, you give other people confidence by the way you act. It is easier for them to accept your “no.” We are better able to act in a firm, friendly way if we respect both them and ourselves.
4. Proper timing will improve your effectiveness tenfold. It does not “work” to deal with a problem at the time of conflict; emotions get in the way. Teach children about cooling-off periods. You (or the children) can go to a separate room and do a time out and do something to make yourselves feel better and then work on the problem with mutual respect. In good discipline, we let the person learn from experience and impose a consequence from which they have chances of learning cause and effect without any real harm. One learns most when the consequence follows immediately, occurs every time, and is directly connected with the act. In many cases the effect may be simply a verbal redirection.
5. Consistency: In good discipline, we are firm and follow through with what we say. Sometimes parents feel uncertain about discipline because their child will get upset or hate them. However, it is important to set discipline when one is not angry. It is okay to inform your child that you must consider the consequence for their actions and will discuss it with them at a later time. This allows you the opportunity to think rationally about the discipline being an effective method to change behavior and not a method of punishment because of your angry state.
6. Sometimes parents feel that a method of discipline is no good because their child repeats the same behavior later. It may only mean that they are testing things out. They may ask themselves, “Does this always happen, or does it depend on how the person feels?”
7. Get rid of the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first you have to make them feel worse. Do you feel like doing better when you feel humiliated? This suggests a whole new look at “time out.”
8. Use Positive Time Out. Let your children help you design a pleasant area (cushions, books, music, stuffed animals) that will help them feel better and learn to self-sooth. Remember that children do better when they feel better. Then you can ask your children, when they are upset, “Do you think it would help you to take some positive time out?”
Punishment may “work” if all you are interested in is stopping misbehavior for “the moment.” Sometimes we must beware of what works when the long-range results are negative: resentment, rebellion, revenge, or retreat.
Teach children that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn! A great way to teach this to them is to model this yourself by using the “Three R’s of Recovery” after you have made a mistake:
(1) Recognize your mistake.
(2) Reconcile: Be willing to say, “’I’m sorry, I didn’t like the way I handled that.”
(3) Resolve: Focus on solutions rather than blame. (#3 is effective only if you do #1 & #2 first.)
Focus on solutions instead of consequences. Many parents try to disguise punishment by calling it a logical consequence. Get children involved in finding solutions that are:
Make sure the message of love and respect gets through. Start with “I care about you. I am concerned about this situation. Will you work with me on a solution?”
9. Use of reinforcement to change behavior. It is always important to keep a positive approach to discipline. Remember that discipline is a means of teaching one to redirect their behavior and to make better choices for themselves. We as adults tend to change our own behavior based on someone’s positive approach when they are discussing issues or concerns with us. Children and adolescents are no different. Avoid poor communication skills. It is important to understand the different kinds of learning and behavior modification using different reinforcements. Research has found that positive reinforcement is the most effective for lasting change while negative punishment is the least effective.
Positive reinforcement: Presentation of a reward to increase behavior. Ex: pizza given for good behavior.
Negative Reinforcement: Withdrawal of reinforcement reduces the likelihood of a behavior.
Positive Punishment: Presentation of a negative reinforcer used to decrease a behavior. Ex: yelling or screaming to increase compliant behavior.
Negative Punishment: Withdrawal of a negative reinforcement to increase desired behaviors.
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