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Discipline or Punishment

Discipline or Punishment? 

Discipline is used by parents to teach a child appropriate behavior.  Punishment is meant to hurt or cause harm.  Have you ever spanked a child when you are angry?  What does that spanking teach your child; that hitting is okay?  One key to the parenting equation is knowing "who owns the problem".  If a child owns the problem the lesson is contained within their own response to the situation and requires no intervention from the parent.  If the parent owns the problem then they should take the lead in the resolution.  Not every problem is a parent's problem.  The question is:  "Should you use discipline (to teach a lesson) or punishment (that can cause harm)?"

The most important part of any discipline formula is understanding the goals of the misbehavior.  Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs (well known in the field of psychology) developed a theory pertaining to the goals of misbehavior.  Our children generally misbehave because their needs are not being met (or perceived needs).  There are four goals of misbehavior:  Attention, power, revenge, and learned helplessness.  When a child's need for positive attention is not met - then the behavior will turn negative as they seek power over their lives.  When power is not gained then they begin further negative behavior that is a form of revenge.  When none of these behaviors work the child will become dispondent and fall into learned helplessness (the whoa is me my life sucks - can't do anything right).  Through learned helplessness the child may further attempt to engage his parent(s).  If unsuccessful in the negative engagement process, then the severity of the cycle will increase.  It is a balancing act to correct the negative without feeding into the behavior through a punishment action.  Some children would rather have negative attention than no attention at all.

Punishment may include yelling, screaming, spanking - all forms of coercive "discipline" (term used loosely).  Punishment in many psychological circles is seen as an act of revenge by the parent.  In essence, as parents we are reverting to the goals of misbehavior when we feel helpless.  Spanking a child could be seen as a form of revenge.  Many children see punishment as a form of humiliation or getting even.  It causes a one upmanship and can cause further negative behavior as the child attempts to have his or her needs met in a negative manner.

Natural versus logical consequences.

Logical consequences are those consequences that are a reasonable result that will follow the desirable or undesirable behavior.  When a child chooses to do something wrong; somehow they have to make the situation right as part of their learning process.  For example, a child does not complete their work at school.  It is sent home to be completed.  The child, through his prior interactions and school rules, knows that this will be the consequence and chooses the consequence.

Natural consequences differ from logical consequences as the consequence occurs naturally without any parental or teacher influence.  For example, if your child is rocking in a chair and falls backward in the chair in front of a group of peers or family - the child would be embarrassed.  Being hurt or embarrassed is a natural consequence of the behavior and is sufficient consequence for the misbehavior. 

When disciplining a child utilizing natural or logical consequences is a tool for your tool chest of skills that will help you positively parent your child or any child that you are responsible for.  Recognizing the goals of the misbehavior of your child will lead to further understanding of the "why" of the misbehavior.  How we correct and teach our children positive behaviors without coercive behavior is the key to successful parenting. 

Coercive parenting versus cooperative parenting

Parenting a child is often not the easiest task in the world.  Many people work full or part time; herd their child(ren) around to events; and barely have a moment to themselves.  Parenting is a 24 hour a day job that never quits; it may seem thankless yet the rewards are endless.  Yet, some parents think that to parent a child you must use coercive parenting to be a success.  This is often where a parent reverts to their own goals of misbehavior; where the parent's needs are not being met.  It is at this point that things actually can get worse and a pattern of misbehavior between parent and child occurs.  By understanding your own unmet needs you are better able to help your child meet their own needs in a healthy emotional context. 

Have you ever told your child not to do a particular thing? Your child turns around and "stops" that behavior.  Then your child changes the behavior slightly to "get away with it".  At some point you may become frustrated and begin to raise your voice or spank.  The child "changes" their behavior yet again.  The cycle continues.  I have heard parents state that "I made...(my child) change their behavior".  Yet, did you?  What lesson did your child learn?  Coercive parenting truly does not change a child's behavior.  Through natural and logical consequences the child chooses to behave or misbehave.  Your child ALWAYS has choice.  How they respond to your actions is a personal choice.  If the consequence is great enough the child generally will choose to stop the behavior. 

Cooperative parenting involves a great deal of communication between parent(s) and child(ren).  Cooperative parenting is not just the authority figure stating when and where to do things.  Rather it is the conversation that takes into account individual feelings and desires.  It is the type of parenting that asks "what would you like to do" and actually following through with the request.  Cooperative parenting is not passive nor aggressive.  Rather it is the focus on constructive behaviors that leads to further constructive behaviors.  It is democratic, not autocratic, in nature.  It leads to the development of a sense of belonging (not just stating you belong) to the family.  Through cooperative parenting, children learn that it is to their advantage to contribute to the welfare of the family.  By teaching your child social interest within the family their individual success rate outside of the family will increase tremendously.

What behaviors we model as parents are behaviors that you will potentially see in your children as adults.  As parents, our behavior teaches our children how to behave.  What lessons have you taught your child today?

Melanie W.
This is a good article. However, your definition of punishment is not the only one. If you look up the word punish, you'll see it doesn't just mean "to cause harm." It also means "to impose a penalty on for a fault, offense, or violation." Penalties at our house involve loss of privileges, being grounded to the bedroom, writing sentences, and definitely acknowledging wrongdoing to another party (when applicable) and seeking forgiveness. Those are examples of healthy forms of punishment. I have read a book on collaborative problem solving that sounds much like what you were briefly trying to convey. It's a good book. It helped me see parenting in a different way. Kids didn't have a say when I was growing up. Parents should definitely not punish when emotional. It serves no constructive purpose and that is when abuse can occur. Not all parents who mess up and punish in anger are unloving. They just haven't learned the right way to discipline or punish. They are doing what they know. It's no excuse. But if we remember that none of us is perfect we'll be less likely to judge someone who does things differently than we do. When I have witnessed situations like this, I am incensed. Then I remember the times I have felt extremely frustrated and think "do I sound like that??!" Then I work on changing myself not others. People are so judgmental about parenting. If you spank or punish in any way, you're labeled abusive. If you do nothing, you're labeled a permissive pushover. We must remember to parent based on what our kids need not what others think of us.
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