Replacing Punishment with Discipline

In order to function in our society, adults must have a certain amount of self-control, impulse-control and anger management. I’m suggesting these skills be developed in our homes. Again, it’s a matter of respecting our kids as people. Consider the dozens of interactions you have with others on a daily basis. Surely at one point or another someone has said something that you disagreed with or they’ve done something that annoyed you. Did you react by lashing out or hitting the other person? Is there another situation where we, as adults, would act so recklessly even if we were upset?

In place of punishment, let's look at some effective discipline techniques. When establishing discipline in your household, communicating your expectations and guidelines with your children is the first step. Initially, help your kids understand why these rules and expectations are important to you. Then, explain to them what will happen if these expectations are not met — what the consequence will be.

By explaining to your kids the reasoning behind the consequences, you’ll be helping them learn from their poor choices. It’s important that a child understands their parents and believes there is logic to their actions. Otherwise, not only is it impossible for the child to meet these goals, but if they break the rules, they have no way of predicting what the reaction will be. However, if everyone is upfront about what will happen, then your child will be more accepting of the consequences and parents are less likely to overreact.

For example, your teenager has been told they have 100 minutes of cell phone time a month. You explain that should they go over, they will lose their cell phone privileges for the next month. So, when the monthly statement comes in showing your teen has used 200 minutes, the consequence for this choice has already been decided. Neither you nor your teen has any surprises.

While I wouldn’t recommend swatting or spanking your child, some parents may still choose to use this method of discipline. Remember, the match-up between parent and child is grossly uneven — the adult is much bigger, much stronger than a child. So, if you choose this course of action, for example, a swat on your child’s bottom when they’re little, I cannot stress enough — never do this out of anger. It is also important to warn your child beforehand so they understand that if the negative behavior continues, a spanking will be the consequence. This reinforces that spanking/swatting is the result of a specific behavior, not just because they are a “bad person.”

Discipline is not about the parent being upset or negotiating; it’s about staying consistent, so your child learns that their parents' expectations are to be taken seriously. If the child chooses to not finish their homework or eat their vegetables, the parent simply says, “That’s too bad. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to watch TV tonight.” Remember to notice when they accomplish these things, too — kids also need positive attention.

Also, whenever you’re disciplining kids, take the time to explain to them that you still love and care about them. Tell your children that they’re not in trouble because “you hate them.” A parent’s love for their child isn’t something that should waiver — your kids need to know that. That way, when the discipline and consequence are over, parent and child can sit down together and talk about the choices and decisions that were made with a goal to creating strategies that will help discourage these kinds of poor choices again.

Jesus admonished his disciples to bring the children to him because, “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” It was clear that Jesus respected the innocence and vulnerability of children.  As parents, we should do the same. Share your thoughts and ideas with your kids and, in return, they will share their ideas with you. Just because the topic is discipline doesn’t mean that there can’t be an exchange of ideas or an open dialogue. Plus, by listening and respecting their ideas, your child will share with you their thoughts on the issues at hand, placing you in a better position to help them.

It is through discipline that we’re trying to shape our kids into the best people they can be; hopefully they will respect our opinions and not just our authority. Over time, as they grow, they will understand that what we’re saying and doing is in their best interest; this discipline is out of love, and not out of revenge. It’s done to help develop their character, and to teach them skills and attributes that will last a lifetime. It will help them to become better parents to their own children one day.

Jay Fitter has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for nearly 20 years.  He received his undergraduate degree in psychology from Hope International University and his graduate degree in family counseling from Azusa Pacific University.  In addition to his practice, he has written a book entitled Respect Your Children: A Practical Guide to Effective Parenting and teaches parenting workshops in churches across the country.  For more info, visit www.respectyourchildren.com.