Most of us parents find value in holding our children accountable for their actions. We rightly believe that if a child misbehaves, something needs to be done or the misbehavior will continue. To that end, we parents often look for a multitude of discipline strategies. We look for books, articles, and parenting advice from others that will tell us exactly what we need to do in order to correct misbehavior. As we compile our stockpile of discipline strategies, we often do not realize that some of these techniques are filled with myths, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations. The following information is adapted from an article by Chick Moorman and Thomas Halle, the authors of “The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose.” Here are some myths of discipline that Moorman and Halle attempt to dispel.
MYTH: Children learn more quickly from punishment than they do from consequences.
FACT: While it is true that you sometimes get a more immediate result with punishment, it is the consistent implementation of consequences that produces long-term behavior change in children. With punishment, the child is more like to focus on you, your behavior, your anger, than on themselves and the results of the choices they made. Learning rarely results from punishment because children are too busy activating resentment, resistance, and reluctance. They are more likely to spend their time thinking how not to get caught next time than they are of the cause and effect relationship between their behavior and the consequences which follow.
MYTH: Consequences need to be severe to be effective.
FACT: It is not the severity of a consequence that has impact. It is the certainty. The certainty that specific, logical consequences follow actions, allows children to understand the discipline process. Your consistency in implementing consequences is the glue that holds a discipline strategy together. Children learn that if they choose to leave their bike in the middle of the driveway, the bike will be hung up in the garage for a few days. Teenagers come to know that if they choose to visit off limit sites on the computer, they have chosen to lose computer privileges for several days. When the consequence occurs consistently, children can count on it.
MYTH: The discipline has to be immediate or the effect will be lost and the child will simply repeat the behavior.
FACT: Discipline can be effective whether it is immediate or delayed. How you discipline is more important that when you do it. You might want to take 15-20 minutes to think through how you want to respond to a particular behavior. Helping children see the cause and effect relationship that exists between the choices they make and the consequences that are directly related to those choices is more important than whether the consequences occurs immediately or the next day.
MYTH: Parents need to be in control of their children and discipline strategies are the way to stay in control.
FACT: Effective discipline calls for the parents to arrange consequences so that the child is in control. They set it up so that the child is in control of his choices and thus controls the outcomes which result.
Consequences are not used to control, to manipulate, to demonstrate power, or to get even. Attempting to use consequences for control crosses the line and becomes punishment.
Punishment is force, unrelated to the behavior and comes across as retribution. Disciplining from the power stance places the child in a position of being “done to” by others in a position of authority. The child, feeling powerless, does not see himself as being in control of the outcomes. He sees himself as the victim.
When children see themselves as in control of whether or not they experience consequences or outcomes, they are empowered. They learn to see themselves as the cause of what happens to them. They realize they personally create the results which show up in their lives by the choices they make. For example, if your son hits his little sister after being told why he should not, he made the choice, not you, that he is going to have to write her a letter of apology. It is therefore, our children who need the power and the control for discipline to be effective.
MYTH: Discipline strategies are effective only if they get the child to comply.
FACT: Compliance or noncompliance by the child has nothing to do with the effectiveness of a discipline system. When discipline strategies demand compliance such as in the case where the parent keeps increasing the severity of the punishment until the child complies, children learn that adults have power and they don’t.
In the use of consequences, the effort does not concentrate on making the child comply. The goal is to present choices, allow the child to choose, and then give them room to learn from the positive or negatives outcomes which occur. With the consequence system, children learn a lesson from either the positive or the negative outcome.
Punishing a child with increasing severity until they pick up their toys might get them to pick up their toys. It will not teach them to take responsibility for their toys or create internal motivation to produce the desired behavior.
With consequences, the choice is presented, “You can choose to pick up your toys or you can choose to leave them here. If you choose to pick them up you will have decided to use them for the next week. If you decide to leave them here, I will pick them up, and you will have decided not to have them available for a week. You decide.” With this style of discipline, the child may choose to pick up his toys and he may choose to leave them there. Either way it’s perfect. If he picks them up, it’s perfect. You don’t have to. If he leaves them there, it’s perfect. It’s the perfect time to help him learn what happens when he chooses not to pick up his toys.
MYTH: When you implement a discipline strategy, the child needs to know that you are angry.
FACT: Anger is not helpful in a discipline situation. When you discipline in anger the child’s attention focuses on your strong emotion. He looks outward to the person applying the punishment rather than inward to his own internal reaction to the results of the choice he made.
Sincere empathy is much more effective than anger in a discipline situation. “I am so sorry. I’ll bet that next time you are allowed to go out, you will respect curfew,” is empathy that maintains a positive connection between you and the child, even as you hold them accountable for their actions. When the child hears empathy, instead of anger, he is more likely to look inside and to notice the connection between cause (his choice) and effect (the consequence).
MYTH: Children have to know they were wrong for discipline to be effective.
FACT: Making children wrong for their behavior is counter-productive to raising responsible children. An effective discipline system does not make children right or wrong for their behavior. It simply holds them accountable for their behavior.
If your child fails to put his bike in the garage as agreed, don’t make him wrong. Don’t make him lazy. Don’t make him forgetful. Don’t make him irresponsible. Don’t blame him Just make him someone who doesn’t get to ride his bike for three days as agreed to earlier.
Even if the problem occurs over time, refrain from making your child wrong. Blaming and faultfinding don’t help children learn how to make different choices and behave differently in the future. Fixing the problem is more important than fixing blame. Together, join in the search for solutions and model for your child that you value solving problems more than you do assigning blame and handing out punishments.
MYTH: It is important to point out the pattern of a child’s behavior.
FACT How many times a behavior occurred in the past is unimportant. The focus in any effective discipline system is the present behavior. The past is over and done with, and the present moment is the only place where learning can take place.
Remember, your role as a parent is to empower your children to be responsible, caring and, confident as they move through the developmental stages of childhood. Avoiding these discipline myths can help you play out that role effectively.