Friday, October 22, 2010

Discipline VS. Punishment

Just read an article by PhD in Parenting re:discipline.  Thought I'd share it with you all because it explains in really concise terms the DIFFERENCE between discipline and punishment. There IS a difference.

Here is the whole article: My comments in red.

My Discipline Spectrum

by phdinparenting on October 20, 2008 · 24 comments

Often when I hear people talk about their discipline style it sounds unrealistic or ineffective. I haven’t read or heard any single approach to discipline that really made perfect sense to me. There are elements of many approaches that I like and elements of others that I abhor. Rather than taking one approach and running with it, I have developed a discipline spectrum that seems to work for me most of the time.

Difference between discipline and punishment

Before I explain my spectrum, I want to be clear about the difference between discipline and punishment. Over and over again, I see people post questions on message boards or places like Yahoo! Answers asking whether it is okay to spank or whether it is okay to use time outs. Inevitably, someone will respond and say that they don’t use spankings or they don’t use time outs because they believe it is harmful to the child. This, in turn, always sparks a rash of responses from people saying how irresponsible it is to not discipline children and that those non-spanking anti-time-out people are the reason for all of the world’s problems. But what those people don’t understand is that there is a fundamental difference between discipline and punishment (see this excellent chart comparing discipline and punishment). Discipline is about teaching and guiding a child in the right direction. Punishment is about demanding compliance by exerting control over a child.  
This is a huge point for me. I could never put my finger on what the true difference was. Some people's response to this will be that children should be controlled. This is a pervasive attitude in the church as well. I believe that Christ would want us to guide and encourage our children, not to control them. After all, He doesn't control us.

Finding my place on the discipline spectrum

Some experts will claim that one approach to discipline is better than all others. In my book, there is a sweet spot on the discipline spectrum that is ideal and then, depending on the situation, I may move slightly to the left or slightly to the right to use less desirable but sometimes important discipline tools.
PhD in Parenting Discipline Spectrum
On the right hand side of the spectrum is abuse, including physical and verbal abuse that parents may use to try to control their children. I consider it abuse to spank a child or to shame a child. On the other end of the spectrum is neglect, where the parents are indifferent and often not present and children are left to fend for themselves. Either of these approaches to discipline is obviously detrimental. But in between these two, there are many approaches and tools that parents can use.
So where is my sweet spot?
My preference (highlighted in green) is to focus in the range of modelling, choices and teaching. I think this is the area with the potential to produce the greatest benefit to the child. It gives some structure, but at the same time gives the child the tools to make wise decisions and develop competencies. It allows me to share my values and pass along things that I have learned without forcing my child to make the same choices that I did. It is, to me, what being a parent is all about.
However, I also think that there is room for some laissez-faire approach to allow the child the full range of decision making. For a child that has learned some structure through other modelling, choices, and teaching, the occasional use of the laissez faire approach gives the child room to grow and learn and can be empowering. But if it is used too often and in absence of other techniques the child can feel lost and the parents lose an opportunity to teach key values and skills to their child.
I also do use consequences and rewards selectively and punishment as a last resort (see also my post When all else fails). For me, consequences are an extension of choice. Choices obviously have consequences attached to them but sometimes even outside of choice we need to impose consequences. My preference is to use natural consequences wherever possible and if that isn’t possible, then to at least use logical consequences. I don’t like using rewards because I think it teaches the child to always expect rewards for doing anything right (brings out the greed aspect in human nature) and I also think that it takes away from the unconditional love that I am trying to show my child when I bribe him with a piece of chocolate or a new toy. That said, he is a stubborn mule sometimes and I will use rewards sparingly to convince him to do something that he is otherwise unwilling to try , but that I know he would like if only he tried it (a Bob the Builder toy was required to eventually convince him to try to poop on the toilet). Punishment is something I use as an absolute last resort in dire circumstances. If my child is in danger or putting someone else in danger and not listening or if he is purposefully defiant (e.g. hitting his sister for the fifth time after being told why it is not okay), then I may revoke privileges or remove him from the situation. When I remove him, it does often mean going to his room by himself for a few minutes while the situation resolves itself, but I always go in and talk to him and will tend towards a “time in” rather than a “time out”.
I appreciate this.  ^
These other techniques that I will use sometimes are highlighted in yellow on the spectrum. I think it is important to note that the more often you use the techniques that are in the yellow zone, the more you become dependent on them (because you are losing the benefits usually realized through modelling, choices, and teaching), and the easier it is to slip into abuse or neglect.

The importance of a secure attachment

I think it is important to underscore that none of the discipline techniques discussed above will work without a secure attachment.
I think this is the most important and eye opening statement of her whole discussion. Incredible. And true.
Dr. Sears has a great article called 10 Ways Attachment Parenting Makes Discipline Easier. Essentially, having a strong and secure relationship with your child provides the foundation that is needed for other discipline techniques to work. It is often in the absence of this strong foundation that parents feel like none of their discipline techniques are working and, again, find themselves slipping further towards abuse in an attempt to control or towards neglect as they give up and sink into indifference.  
This is usually what you see happen to parents who say they've tried everything and nothing succeeds. They give up and become apathetic. I'd be interested in reading more about what to do with the child who hasn't had that secure attachment from the beginning and how to heal that.

Where is your sweet spot?

Where is your sweet spot on the discipline spectrum? Why does that work for you?

Overall I think this is a great article and I love that she points us in other directions in which to read more as well. Dr. Sears' approach is definitely where I fall into step and what he says really resonates with me. As a Christian, I appreciate his use opinions knowing that he tries to raise his children in line with what the Bible teaches. 

Personally, discipline has been one of those areas that I feel most challenged in. At the age of two, his strong will is coming out pretty quickly and sometimes I feel at a loss of what to do when he is having a temper tantrum. I know I've read a great article about how to deal with temper tantrums so I'll have to dig it up again.

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