13 April 2006

Disciplining Your Child

How do you discipline your child?

Almost every time I have been part of a group debating this question, whether at church or casually amongst friends, the discussion has dwelt on a few topics:
• Whether to spank or not
• The efficacy of time-outs
• Curfews
• “Be firm, but not overbearing”
• “Reproving betimes with sharpness….”
• Parents today are too lenient

And I think these are all terrible–albeit telling–things to bring up in a discussion about discipline. They would be good topics if you were discussing punishment, but the question is about discipline.

Enough with the semantics, right? Wrong. There is a big difference between discipline and punishment, and I think it is a problem when we get them confused.

Punishment is a response to bad behavior. We could debate the correct methods and it would be very helpful. We could discuss the points I listed above. But we’d be deluded if we thought we were discussing discipline. (By the way, when I say, “We could” in this paragraph, I mean, “We could–on another blog.” Please do not discuss punishment methods here.)

Discipline is the reason for good behavior. Look at the word–it’s the same root we use for the word “disciple,” which means “a follower.” Discipline teaches how to act in a given situation, and if the incorrect action is performed, then it may be necessary to exact a punishment. That means that discipline, if properly followed, will obviate the need for punishment.

Why do I say above that it is “telling” that discussions labeled as being about discipline are actually about punishment? Because it epitomizes the confusion we have about what is discipline. And if we are confused about what is discipline, then we are probably not doing a good job of disciplining.

So let me ask the question again so that we can discuss it: “How do you discipline your child?”


Aaron said...

I think you explained the differences very well. You make the point that punishment is only a piece of discipline. If discipline requires punishment for incorrect behavior there must be a consequence to good behavior as well.

Reward, therefore, is also part of discipline. A child should get rewarded for correct behavior. This should be the primary focus. More time should be spent learning the right way not the wrong way. Otherwise we will have a bunch of kids who are experts at what is wrong. And they will have little knowledge of what is right. They can not do what is right if they do not know what it is.

In both punishing and rewarded the goal is to teach the child appropriate behavior. The best way to teach is to teach by example. I know this is said a lot but it is not worn out because it is True. I am always observing how parents interact with their children to try and learn what is effective parenting and what is negative parenting. I learned more from my parents when they were making their own personal choices and were unaware of me watching them. That should scare parents to death.

Anther important aspect to discipline is expectations. In the neighborhood where I grew up, the kids who had high expectations lived up to them. The kids with low expectations met them as well, they just had to sink to do it. The sad part was that when those kids who had low expectations did the right thing there was such a fuss made over the fact than no one expected them to do the right thing that they never did it again. So when you reward for doing the right thing it should not be because you are surprised, make sure they know you expected them to do the right thing.

BrianJ said...

Aaron said, "That should scare parents to death."

I am not scared by it. I understand what you are saying, but I have faith in "the system." I look around and I see that most people act a lot like their parents and most people are good. So it seems to be working out pretty well.

I also feel secure knowing that my children can go through the same error/repentance/change process that I went through: I am grateful for that process so I hope my children can see me experiencing it.

One of the things I have tried to do is to pull the curtains away from mystery of parenthood. I'll have to blog about what I mean by that. Stay tuned.

"Anther important aspect to discipline is expectations."

Thanks for highlighting this point. I think this isn't just an "aspect" of discipline, it is discipline's entire goal: to show what is expected.

moA said...

Too often I feel I'm just too stinkin' tired to discipline or teach anything.

However, I have really been impressed with the power of listening. I had a real problem, when my kids did anything, I thought I listened and we'd talk about it, and they would name their unlovely reasons or feelings for bad behavior, I would immediately talk them out of it, lecture them, tell them Jesus doesn't want them to hate their sister, would they like if it someone did that to them. In fact, I would cut them off.

Then I read Faber & Mazlish How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk. and it gave me something to do other than cut to the chase.

It works so much better, if instead of solving their problem or telling them how to think, I just listen, and say things that let them spin it out and see themselves. I've just got a handful of kids, though the neighbors seem to think I have 20, and listening has really made a difference.

BrianJ said...

mother of all:

Beautiful comment. If what I imply in the original post is correct, then your children should be picking up on your way of listening and asking questions--they should be following your discipline. Have you noticed them doing this?