What is Discipline? How?
Inner or external?
When discipline is discussed by parents, some think of punishment. Punishment is directed toward the child, done by the parent. Punishment is negative, and psychologists and other scientists in careful studies find that negative discipline or punishment often fails. Discipline that is positive and supportive is far more effective.
In parenting groups I ask those who were punished physically if they will raise their hands, and generally some do. I then ask if any feel free to talk about it. Usually a few are, and among many comments two reactions are most frequent.
How much do you want your children to hide behavior and to be secretive? How much do you want to strengthen their feelings of trust and affection, and to build a growing relationship with each child?
The carrot is better than the stick, though it may take longer and require thinking and planning, and it saves tempers.
Why you use these tools
Perhaps the best summary of your attitude and outlook that you try to express with discipline is what my Dad called the three As: acceptance, appreciation, affection. I add a fourth: affirming each child. Think about each of these A's in terms of how you can express each "A" with each child.
Some parents think of discipline or punishment as forgiveness and penance, which puts the parent in control, but does not develop the child's own inner discipline. Do you want your child to grow in being responsible, and to see a parent as one who lovingly and patiently led them, and continues to be available for counsel and advice and perhaps forgiveness?
Discipline to be most effective comes after you practice your own disciplines such as careful listening and decoding to seek the feelings in your childs personal communication, using I-messages to communicate your own feelings in personal and business communication and seek a more personal response from the child, and exploring alternatives that leads your child to take initiative in thinking about and making choices. And all of these are expressions of your unconditional love for each child in that child's uniqueness.
Deed and doer
Sometimes we will automatically say, "You bad boy", or "You nasty girl." As soon as we realize what we said, we can apologize and with a hug indicate this is not our usual view. We might even relate it to when they have said similar things to playmates or others, but did not really mean it.
Enforcing limits when children are very young is more of a parental act, but again as children grow in their ability to reason, use imagination and creativity as you use varieties of discipline with children. The yes-no game is an example of creating ways for younger children to accept limits. Children generally want to please parents as part of their dependence on parents for survival, and we can use that urge in children to involve them in enforcing limits, using games and interactions as much as possible.
Parents on occasion must be firm, especially in emergency or serious situations. If being firm is infrequent, that firmness will be listened to and noticed and probably followed. Involving the child often interactively in limits and decisions will contrast to the times when parents are firm.
A difficult limit setting is when teens start dating and driving. When our daughter needed deadlines for when she would be home, I negotiated with her, starting with questions about why we as parents wanted her home earlier rather than later. She offered several reasons, and I added others. Together we set limits on how late she would be out. Because she was part of making the decision — a "stakeholder" in the decision — she was more likely to cooperate. One night on returning home from a date, she talked about an erratic driver they had seen that reminded her of the dangers of drunk drivers, and, she added, that there are more the later in the night.
Enforcing limits on teens works best the more we involve them in decisions. Since we both worked, often neither of us stayed up for her arrival, and she told us in the morning when she arrived. Often when our daughter was late, there was laughter as she described unusual events. I think this approach is far superior to the parents who stay up to be sure the limits they set are followed, and having their teens want later limits on certain nights, and deciding how to deal with being late a few minutes or quarter-hour.
Teens may test parents, depending on the teens own motivation and creativity. They sometimes work with peers to push limits. Here is an example:
This may seem extreme, especially having arranged for a car for the trip, but teens may want to arrange trips at spring break, for out of town athletic events, plays, competitions, concerts, and other times. How do we respond to this request within the framework of involving teens in decision-making and limits-setting? Do we know the other ones, and does being in a group make us feel they are safer? Think through how to handle this situation. List as many alternative responses as you can and evaluate why they may be more or less effective for your individual child.
For a thorough study of spanking see the book, Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families by Murray A. Straus. Recent research reported in a medical journal finds that corporal punishment actually increases unwanted behavior.
However, they can be effective if used occasionally. Time-out can be effective, for example, at meal times. It can be most effective if these few rules are followed:
Grounding always reminds me of a mother in one of my groups, who joined our study because her grounding of her son now added up to months. She said there had to be a better way. Think of grounding as house arrest, and reflect on how frustrating that is. What does it teach the child; what does the child learn? Does it increase the anger or resentment behind the problem behavior? Think of it as a very short-term emergency tactic to give you time to think of a better way.
My "yes-no" game is a form of reframing. When our daughter was in the "automatic-no" stage, I made a request, to which she said no. I repeated the same request quickly a few more times, then reversed the request, so her automatic no was really yes. That triggered laughter, and doing what she was asked. An example: "Come to supper" was reframed into "Skip supper." The game quickly became cut-throat, and I did not always win. But we usually both laughed. The automatic no is reframed into a game and often into a "yes." Her hostile "no" is also self-affirming, declaring independence! The shift challenges; laughter heals!
"Clean up your room!"
Some parents decide to let their children's rooms alone, but insist that the children's clothes and games not clutter the rest of the house. With younger children one tactic, if children leave things outside their rooms at bedtime, and they do not respond to requests to get them, parents put them out of reach visibly for a while. Requests for those things leads to conversation about why they are up there — an example of "logical" cause-effect discipline.
Time alone with
Some books and speakers warn that parents and friends are two different qualities and roles, and that parents should never be friends. I think the more you get to know each child in their uniqueness, and interact with that child, you are becoming an understanding and appreciative friend.
Many parents in my groups reported that this one-with-one time was extremely valuable.
Focus entirely on this child of yours, deepening your bonding to each other regularly from the active child to the sometimes overly quiet teen.
Murray A. Straus, PhD; David B. Sugarman, PhD; and Jean Giles-Sims, PhD reported in the August 1997 issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine their study designed to deal with the causal relationship between corporal punishment and antisocial behavior (ASB) — whether one causes the other.
The method of their study: Data from interviews with a national sample of 807 mothers of children aged 6 to 9 years in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-Child Supplement. Analysis of variance was used to test the hypothesis that when parents use corporal punishment to correct ASB, it increases subsequent ASB. The analysis controlled for the level of ASB at the start of the study, family socioeconomic status, sex of the child, and the extent to which the home provided emotional support and cognitive stimulation. Results: Forty-four percent of the mothers reported spanking their children during the week prior to the study and they spanked them an average of 2.1 times that week. The more spanking at the start of the period, the higher the level of ASB 2 years later. The change is unlikely to be owing to the child's tendency toward ASB or to confounding with demographic characteristics or with parental deficiency in other key aspects of socialization because those variables were statistically controlled.
Conclusions: When parents use corporal punishment to reduce ASB, the long term effect tends to be the opposite. The findings suggest that if parents replace corporal punishment by nonviolent modes of discipline, it could reduce the risk of ASB among children and reduce the level of violence in American society. (Volume 151 Pages 761-767)
Will you share your comments or concerns…
Copyright © 2002 John F. Yeaman