Uh Oh, Discipline Vs. Punishment

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Before Caleb was born Corey and I had this crazy idea about spanking. What was so crazy about it? We thought it was a great idea. Why did we think that exactly? Why did we think that hitting a small child who can’t fight back would be a good idea? Why did we have no problem with that when hitting any adult would be considered assault and have a chance of landing us in jail? Well, it’s what our parents, like most parents, did. We didn’t seem to have any negative outcome from being spanked.

Caleb was born and we fell in love and after hearing the argument against spanking of, why hit a child when anyone else would be illegal, we decided spanking was a huge no. From there I wanted a better reason than just a gut feeling for when people asked me why we wont spank. Here’s a great resource: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/Spanking-Linked-to-Mental-Illness.aspx

That left us with the question of how to discipline our little boy. I started to research the different methods out there and something that really stood out to me was the difference between Discipline and Punishment. The easiest way to put it I think is that Discipline is teaching a child how to act the way they are expected to in a positive way rather than making them feel bad about themselves without really learning a lesson. Punishment is often associated with the negative and ends up with a child thinking, “Mommy’s so mean!” Discipline often ends with a child understanding what they have done wrong and learning how to be “better.” I’m no expert, I really can’t put into words as well as I’d like to the difference, but it is an important one.

Right now Caleb is 18 months old and kind of a trouble maker. He has no fear which unfortunately means my daily level of fear has gone up three fold. Climbing, all the time, is all he wants to do and frankly it just isn’t safe. He’s already gotten himself a good shiner from climbing on his desk and slipping as he tried to get down. How do we keep him from climbing on things when he wont listen, like any normal 18 month old, to our requests to do just that?

This is where Discipline comes in. Frankly there aren’t a lot of things you can do. We’ve already said no to spanking (which includes popping or slapping any part of his body.) He’s too young to really understand how serious I am when we say no. So what is there to do? Science has shown a big reaction like yelling or freaking out will only reinforce the action. Children are looking for a reaction. Good or bad, any reaction will make them want to do the action more. That’s not to say when they aren’t being safe that you should just ignore it.

The worst place my son like to climb is our tv stand. It’s narrow, the TV could tip on him, and it’s higher up than he could fall without being hurt. Whenever he climbs up there, which is getting less and less thankfully, I take him down without saying a word or without any expression on my face. I sit him down on the couch with me and that’s that. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but please remember that he is only a year and a half old at this point. How much does he really understand? Right now the best way to keep him safe and out of trouble is to take him away from the situations.

Same goes for when we are out in public. The whole, I’m not getting my way and want to throw a tantrum, thing started a couple of months ago. We ignore it and walk away. That fit ends within seconds. He gets himself together and follows us after he sees that he isn’t getting a reaction and that we’re leaving. We could make a big deal about it, try to drag him onto his feet, yell at him… It wouldn’t have the effect that walking away does.

So, what happens as he gets older? Right now I watch a five and ten year old regularly. I have to take a very different tactic with them. They can understand when I say no. They know right from wrong. Again, hitting isn’t even on the spectrum of a solution. What is a solution, and has worked amazingly on both of these kids, is something that just felt right to me. If they lie, don’t listen, throw a fit, or anything else that requires discipline I tell them in an even voice to sit down. The first week or two that I was watching them they would sit down and have a tantrum in the chair. Yelling, hitting it, telling me how mean I am. I’d let them throw the fit and I’d just wait. Eventually they’d calm down and I’d just talk to them. I’d ask if they knew why I asked them to sit down. The five year old usually just shrugged her shoulders but the ten year old would tell me why. Either way I would tell them why I asked them to sit, explain why I didn’t like that action, and I’d ask if they thought they should be doing it. If they said no, they could go do something else. The ten year old I’d sometimes have do a chore like take out the trash. After that they wouldn’t do the action again. Months later, working with this form of Discipline, the kids have many an amazing transformation with me. I wish I could say more, but just know that the ten year old has become a whole different person.

It seems so simple, it almost seems like it isn’t discipline, but it works. There is a term I’ve heard used that I really love. “Train UP a child.” This means to show them how you’d like them to act and rather than telling them no all the time, telling them what you’d like to see instead. One great example is going to the grocery store. Rather than going in and saying to the children, “Don’t touch anything. Don’t run away from me. Don’t ask for anything.” try a more positive approach. “Please stay with me. Hand on the cart please. Sorry, we aren’t getting that this time. I understand you are disappointed but not this time.” It’s amazing what happens when you parent in a positive way.

These little changes, these simple ways of disciplining children, have made my life better and a lot less stressful and I hope it can help you as well.

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