Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
A little girl about age 4 began a tantrum at the grocery store when her mother refused to buy candy. The man behind me in line declared with conviction, “Boy, if she were mine, I’d tan her little hide right here, right now.” He seemed very satisfied with himself while everyone around looked at him or the girl with a jaundiced eye. Yes, this is a touchy topic.
So, your child had screwed up, yet again. He or she has done something that is clearly forbidden or failed to do something that was clearly expected. You’re disappointed, frustrated and angry, as only our children can make us and you can see (in your mind’s eye) the sheriff dragging him or her off to jail at some future date. You feel it’s you duty to correct him or her. The only thing you can think of is to “get” him or her.
But wait, will it be punishment or discipline? Some parents may choose punishment. Other parents will choose discipline. This article will help you to discern the difference between the two.
Our children can be our greatest source of love and pride and our biggest source of heartache. The closer the relationship, the more betrayed, angry, and frustrated we are likely to feel when our children misbehave. Even the kindest and most well-intentioned parent becomes exasperated at times. Some parents realize that their exasperation is related to their expectations rather than with what the child had done. Those who don’t may believe they have the right to treat the child with utmost disrespect.
What is discipline?
Discipline means applying appropriate consequences to encourage a child to make better choices in the future. The original use of the word DISCIPLINE referred to instructions given to disciples. Discipline is future focused, points toward future acts, has nothing to do with retribution, or redemption and is designed to teach.
Discipline holds the child's best interest, not the parent's anger, in the forefront. Discipline is never out of control. While the result of punishment is fear and shame, the result of discipline is security because the child has been given a different way to behave. When you think about this definition, it becomes clear that parents cannot impart discipline or knowledge, if they don’t themselves have either.
What about Punishment?
Punishment allows parents to discharge their anger and aggression on a smaller, less powerful person. By punishing, parents find relief, are freed of upsetting emotions and assumes that all is well afterwards. How satisfying is that?
Punishment teaches children that people in power can force others to do their will. And when the child is old enough and able, he or she will likely do the same. Punishment produces some very negative characteristics in children: guilt, shame, bitterness, resentment, regret, self-pity, fear, and more. Because punishment is focussed on the past, children are unable to undo what they've done wrong and make it right nor do they receive instructions for how to behave in the future. Punishment is simply retribution that leads to a lot of negative emotions and injured feelings that last longer than the physical pain.
How many times have you heard this “My parents whipped me and look at me, I turned out ok”? Too many, I’m afraid. But that doesn’t mean that the punishment wasn’t detrimental. When the punished child reaches adulthood, he or she is likely to have repressed the trauma and remembers only the relief of having the punishment over. When punished, children no longer feels guilty about what they have done or obligated to make it right. They believe they have more than paid for the misbehaviour and develop a desire for revenge which they are likely to inflict on some less powerful person. Parents who were hit as children are likely to do the same to their own children and often to their spouse. Have you ever wondered why there is so much violence and anger in the world? We live what we’ve learned.
So, What’s a parent to do?
The fundamental issue in raising children is to develop maturity and to create in the child the desire to be a moral, disciplined, and ethical person. Probably the only way for an undisciplined person to learn discipline is by watching and emulating someone who is disciplined. Thus, teaching discipline requires that parents are themselves, disciplined. When they are, punishment is rarely necessary. Children learn better when they see their parents living by the values they are teaching. Modelling is the best way to teach your children to become better people who respect themselves and others.
There is little question that when a child has seriously misbehaved, a consequence is needed. Shouting won’t help. It may shock or scare a child into doing what you want, but he or she will be unable to hear the instructions for better behaviour, if they’re presented.
It’s better to cool down before you make your move or you’ll end up causing harm. This is how abuse occurs. With firmness and kindness, make sure the child is held accountable and the consequence is directly related to the misbehaviour.
Punishment makes raising children harder, not easier. Parents lacking patience take heed.
Next Month, I’ll write about alternatives to hitting.
© Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. 5 March 2013
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor Emerita and Author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a private Clinical in Springfield for more that 40 years. She lives and writes in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at www.drrachellanderson.com for more articles.