When you think of discipline, do several questions come to mind?
What is the most effective type of discipline?
How do I discipline my child?
How do I just get…my…child…to…listen???
This is one of the most misunderstood and confusing subjects in parenting.
Back to the Beginning
In order to begin to answer some of these questions, we are going to need to go back to the beginning, where it all started.
The original Latin meaning of discipline is “to teach.” But somewhere along the way, it changed dramatically. The old French meaning of discipline was “to punish or make suffer.”
And now, the first definition of discipline in the Merriam Webster dictionary is “a control gained by enforcing obedience or order.”
The ever-evolving meaning of this word adds to the confusion about what it means in relation to our children.
So what does discipline actually mean when it comes to kids?
The first question you need to ask yourself is what is your goal when using discipline with your children? Is it to:
Punish them for “bad” behavior?
Control the way they behave?
Next, ponder the questions above and see if you can imagine the outcome of each of those goals. With the first two, chances are you may get the result you desire (controlling or stopping the behavior), but at what cost? What will your child have learned?
They may have learned not to let YOU see that behavior anymore, but do they understand why they should not be behaving that way? Do they have a plan not to behave that way anymore, or just not in front of you?
An example to consider
A quick illustration is a boy whose parent catches him cursing. The parent grounds the boy and takes away his video games. (Parents tend to use video games and screens as a means of punishment, discipline or control because it is such a powerful element in our kids’ lives. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea, which I’ll get to later.) The parent is mad (likely due to embarrassment – what will others think?) and wants to STOP the cursing. The boy is resentful that he got punished and lost his beloved video games.
Before we go any further, ask yourself what playing video games has to do with cursing or how taking them away could be a natural consequence.
Now, we have a fuming/embarrassed parent and a resentful boy, with the result being a further disconnection between them. And the parent didn’t necessarily even stop the cursing.
Goal not achieved and relationship damaged.
Now let’s look at the third goal.
The outcome of the third behavior might get you the result you are looking for. But it is likely to take more time and effort on your part. Notice I didn’t promise it would get you the result, because truly we cannot control another person – all we can control is ourselves.
Let’s revisit that little boy and his parent. If the parent’s goal is to teach, perhaps the parent sits down to talk with the boy. In this talk, the parent explains how they feel about cursing (maybe that it is derogatory or insulting or makes it appear that the boy doesn’t have an extensive vocabulary, or however the parent feels about cursing).
Next, the parent asks the boy why he chooses to curse. If the boy feels very safe with his parent, the boy may reveal that all of his friends curse and he and his friends think it’s cool and he feels cool when he curses.
Great, so where do they go from here?
The harsh reality is that this parent is not going to be able to 100% stop the boy from cursing. They could take away things he loves, wash his mouth out with soap, etc. However, the boy will still be free to curse if he chooses, and particularly if whatever the “reward” he feels from cursing outweighs the punishment if he gets caught. That is not meant to encourage you to create a harsher punishment. It is just to give you some insight into why kids do the things they do.
Getting to the root through connection
Given that the parent has created a safe space that allows the boy to feel seen, heard and valued, the parent now likely has compassion for why the boy is choosing to curse. Perhaps the parent lets the boy know that they understand wanting to be seen as cool around his friends.
And then perhaps the parent tells the boy that while they understand why the boy is cursing, they still do not feel it is necessary or a good idea. But if the boy is going to choose to curse around his friends, he needs to make sure there are no younger kids around or adults who would overhear him. Possibly the parent then goes into the topic of not cursing over social media, because that will stick forever. That could lead to a whole discussion of how we need to conduct ourselves online.
This discussion may also lead to helping the boy to not feel the need to be seen as cool and to help him to feel more comfortable in own skin. It can be tough to be a kid. This type of conversation is likely to elevate the parent’s compassion for the boy even further.
Easier said than done!
This statement is definitely true. I will get into the how and why in upcoming blog posts. We will have to dive into your triggers, fears, feeling of being judged by others, etc. When any of those things are driving your choices, it will result in disconnection from your child. I think I can easily say that none of us want that.
I have a series of videos on discipline that I invite you to watch here.
Let’s get back to the use of screens/video games as a punishment or even reward. While using them in this way may get the desired behavioral outcome, I do not recommend this. It takes the focus off of the issue at hand. Screens, video games, technology, and social media have an almost magical quality to them that lures our kids in for a variety of reasons. They may need to feel connected to their peers, the screen provides stimulation, as well as the addictive nature of them.
When we use technology as a reward or punishment, we are giving it EVEN MORE POWER over our children. Their focus moves off of the issue at hand and onto how and when they are going to get more use of their screens. Does that make sense?
A final question before we wrap up part one of our discussion: Using discipline to punish or control may stop the behavior you are finding undesirable, but at what cost?
This is Part 1 of a series on discipline. Stay tuned for Part 2 and 3.
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Erin Taylor is a mom, parent coach, and author of Connection and Kindness: The Key to Changing the World through Parenting. Her podcast, Powerful Parenting for Today’s Kids is enjoyed by parents around the world. Erin was able to take the tragedy of the death of her infant daughter and turn it around to not only survive, but thrive, and help others to do the same. You can learn more about her at www.erin-taylor.com.
This article, Struggling With How To Discipline Your Child? , was originally published on Erin Taylor and is reposted here with express permission from the author. Permission to repost this article must come directly from the author.
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