How to Discipline a Child: To Spank or Not to Spank
A funny thing happened on the way to adulthood. I got spanked. On my bottom, butt, derriere, rear-end, leg, calf, arm, back and face. Occasionally even an elbow. A rose by any other color, it bore resemblance to swatting, smacking, slapping, thrashing, walloping, whacking, cuffing, belting and hitting. Wooden spoons, belts, pieces of rope and my all-time favorite… willow branches or switches as they were called. One Christmas I even received a stocking full of said switches, (yes, I got better presents!) to remain me of the clear and present danger that awaited me if I stepped out of line.
I was pretty much a walking spanking machine.
Permission was granted and accepted by my grade school principal, middle school shop teacher, grandfather, grandmother, aunts, uncles, mom and dad to spank away. Nothing was clearer than a sandwich sign hanging off my chest indicating I was “fresh meat” for anyone who needed to swat some misbehaving kid. In fact if I did something naughty it was considered permissible for even a stranger walking the grocery store to haul off and “give me a good one.” In fact, my parents encouraged it. “Thank you” was often uttered to confirm the consequences I doubt deserved.
Years later as I survey the cultural landscape of American society I see a far different world.
Children call 911 on parents exercising the parental option of correcting perceived misbehavior. Local and national media carry stories of parents arrested, booked and convicted of parental abuse. Am I bold or stupid to suggest corporal punishment? Possibly you think I’ve gone mad to even write or speak about such a controversial subject.
Most often we speak out our personal pain or lack of understanding. Punishment is no excuse for abuse. Discipline should not be confused with punishment.
There are huge differences. Punishment leads to fear.
Appropriate discipline gives a sense of security. The goal of punishment is to inflict enough pain to prevent a child from repeating that act. The goal of discipline is to teach a child. Physical pain is not a prerequisite of learning.
Punishment forces boundaries on children. Discipline teaches boundaries that children can choose. Punishment focuses on external behavior. Discipline focuses on the heart. Punishment limits a child. Discipline liberates a child to reach his or her potential.
So how do parents get their children to be well behaved? Parents use different strategies and you can witness their efforts at any family restaurant, or local store. The hit or miss success of punishment reinforces parenting methods that don’t teach self-control or (self discipline) to the child.
Here are a few examples of unproductive parenting tools we’ve all witnessed somewhere, sometime, (or maybe even used):
These parents don’t want to use any type of force – verbal or physical. They feel everything the child does must be of his or her own free will. So they resort to begging, “Please, will you eat your food?” When the child doesn’t respond, the parent will say, “Pretty please, will you do it for mommy or daddy?” The cajoling continues until the child gives in or the parent is exhausted. Politely requesting that a child complete a task is not wrong; the problem is when it appears to be begging or optional, that’s when the child will exercise his or her free will. Don’t beg your kids to obey you.
Some parents approach it like a military sergeant would. Their attitude is: Do it or else. In this camp, all conversations are reduced to orders, ultimatums and threats. Parents speak strongly and forcefully and the children are expected to get in line, or else. Children obey these orders, but only because they fear punishment.
Here are some examples:
- “We’re going to get some discipline in this house!”
- “Eat your food, or there will be no dessert!”
- “Clean up your room or I’ll throw your toys away!”
- “Do your homework, and I mean right this minute! If you don’t, I will spank you.”
Other parents use guilt to get their children to mind: “I can’t believe that after I work my fingers to the bone and bring you to this nice restaurant you repay me by playing in your salad.” Why can’t you pick up your toys, Mommy or Daddy worked so hard today! I don’t know why I do for you the things that I do. I spent $500 buying you school clothes and you can’t even bring yourself to carry the laundry up the stairs.” Implied, but not said, is, “You’re a bad person and a major disappointment to me.”
These parents believe in logically persuading their child it is in the child’s best interests to comply. They will not come right out and make their kids do anything they just try to talk them into it:
- “Don’t you want to eat your corn? It’ll make you strong.”
- “You’ll feel so proud when your room is clean.
- Don’t you think cleaning your room is the fun thing to do?”
Another common persuasive technique is to also refer to heroes: “I’ll bet Iron Man, LeBron James, or Barbie eats all of their cereal.” Of course, the totally ineffective derivative of this strategy is to use a sibling as the shining example.
“Your brother Johnny gets good grades.
Your sister keeps her room clean.
It’s the old standby—bribery: “Hey James. Here’s $10 bucks.” “Finish your mashed potatoes and go clean your room. “If you make all A’s on your report card there’s another $20 in it for you.” The premise is to figure out what the child wants and use it to motivate them to take action.
Here’s how this works. The parent requests the child do something. The child refuses or ignores the request. The parent then notices the child has not complied. The parent requests again. The child again ignores or says no. The parent becomes more and more tense. Screaming, yelling, intimidation and a power struggle soon follow.
These parents manipulate the child using their own emotions as a subtle form of power and control. “I can’t believe you did this; it hurts so badly I can’t stand to be around you.” They withdraw love when the child doesn’t do what was expected.
So What Should You Do?
Parents often try these different methods to get children to act the way they expect with varying degrees of success. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. The inherent flaw with all of these discipline techniques is over-dependence on external rewards and punishments and not on the internal motivation.
Whether a child obeys or disobeys, parents have a choice to reinforce or discourage the behavior in a loving manner. The issue isn’t whether a child should be spanked or will disobey. The true issue is how far will they go. Granted they must have clear expectations of what their behavior should look like. Ultimately we should ask ourselves, what do loving parental responses look like?
The solution to effective discipline is not what usually comes instinctively to us as parents. Our tendency to over-react to our own parents’ “mistakes” often causes us to do the opposite of what our parents did. Your parents spanked, so you decide to never spank.
Discipline handed down in a loving manner and teaches self-control to all parents. When you are tempted to fall into unproductive discipline tactics consider changing your tactics and adding a whole lot of love and unconditional acceptance.
It won’t be easy, but if you determine to change, and allow God to help you, you can begin to truly discipline your children instead of just punishing them.
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