Discipline Without Punishment
Discipline the Mind, Not the Body
Please understand, the following method is only one way to utilize discipline. Punishment does work and I am not against using it. However, I prefer to solve problems without punishment. After reading this article I hope you will agree—punishment should be reserved only for cases where other methods have not worked.
Punishment is a middleman.
A child's body is punished as an attempt to change his mind .
Matter of fact, the only purpose that punishment serves, is to affect the mind through physical discomfort or pain. Punishment is thus a middleman in its purest form; it is pain to the child for no reason other than to affect the mind, the pain itself is completely irrelevant.
Pain is defined here as any physical and/or mental discomfort. Punishment includes but is not limited to: spanking, time-out, loss of privileges, sending to room, extra chores, and any other action applied as a consequence to a child with the intention of causing the child discomfort.
Let's look at two examples of punishment. The first example illustrates a physical punishment (spanking), the second example illustrates a non-physical punishment (time out). After the examples we will 1. Analyze exactly what is going on and 2. Come to a conclusion that solves the problem without punishment.
Johnny is a mischievous seven year old boy. He is playing soccer in the house, which, of course, he knows is against the rules. He kicks the ball and makes a goal! Unfortunately, the goal causes a lamp to break—trouble is coming. When Johnny's mom finds out he has broken a lamp, she spanks him.
What is the purpose of the spanking? Hopefully, it is not because Johnny's mom is mad at him, this would be a retaliatory-punishment—more like revenge than punishment at all. Perhaps it is because he has broken the rules. When a rule is broken, a consequence must follow. Yes, but why must a consequence follow? The answer is simple, so that he will not repeat breaking the rules. Johnny's mom would not have spanked him if she knew beyond a doubt that he would never play soccer in the house again. She used a punishment to change his mind about playing soccer in the house.
Second example. Johnny did not change his mind about playing soccer in the house. He instead plays with a blow-up beach ball which he has justified in his mind is not a "soccer ball" and thus, he cannot be playing "soccer" if he is using a beach ball instead of a "soccer ball". He kicks it around while his mother is in the kitchen. She happens to peek into the living room and see her son playing "soccer". She does note that he has stopped playing with the soccer ball, so instead of spanking him, she administers a time-out as a less painful reminder that soccer is not allowed in the house.
The punishment of a time-out was administered for the exact same reason as the spanking, the only difference is the severity of the punishment. Regardless, the child was punished in each scenario. First, physically through the act of a spanking. In the second example, Johnny was given time-out, which is a mental—and perhaps physical—discomfort. Both of these methods are undoubtedly "punishment".
Let's take a close look at the thought process of each person, it is always important to get to the root of the problem. In these two examples it is very evident that the root of the problem was not reached, meaning it is likely to occur again.
First, Johnny. It is natural for boys to be very physical beings, they will want to do things indoors that they do outdoors. Playing ball in the house is a very common occurrence. Even though Johnny knows it is against the rules to "play soccer" in the house, this was probably not clearly defined to him. It is important to be very concrete and factual when dealing with young children, they will take you very literally. One thing is certain, Johnny's mind is constantly justifying his own actions (just like you do). It was perfectly okay in his mind to play soccer in the house because his mother wasn't looking. It was not until he broke the lamp that he figured out why he should not play soccer in the house. To Johnny, breaking the lamp was the mistake, not playing soccer. The second time Johnny was playing soccer he chose a blow-up beach ball—another justification. He obviously would not play soccer with a soccer ball again with his mother in the next room, so he justifies something else—the beach ball. So far, in Johnny's mind, the only thing he has done wrong is break a lamp!
His mother, however, has a completely different opinion on the matter. She cannot understand, 1. Why Johnny would play soccer when he knows it's against the rules, and 2. Why he would do it again. She really does not care about the lamp, Johnny has twice done the same thing wrong in her eyes—broken the rules. Thus, we have an obvious miscommunication. Nothing is solved, and there is a very high risk that Johnny will play some form of soccer in the house again.
How to Solve the Problem:
Miscommunications are much more frequent than you think. It is rare that a child does something for evil's sake, they usually have a motive (whether good or bad) and it is when you can discover that motive, and know why something happened, that you can prevent it from happening again
- Be Clear: When you are instructing children in your expectations tell them exactly what to do (telling them what NOT to do is less helpful). Tell your child that it is not okay for them to break the rules when they are by themselves—it seems obvious, but it's not.
- Ask Questions to Determine Understanding: "Do you understand me?" does not count. The autoreply to this question is "yes" whether there is understanding or not. Instead ask a question like, "If you are by yourself, what would be an example of something you cannot do?" This is directly related to the child's understanding.
- When it Happens Anyway: Stay calm! Do not assume anything, and start asking questions, "How did that lamp break?" gives your child an opportunity to be honest and gives you an opportunity to find out what happened. Ask, ask, ask, try to find out why your child disobeyed you. Again, stay calm, just ask questions in a normal, conversation type tone. "You were playing soccer in the house?" ("Yes") "Why were you playing soccer in the house?" ("I don't know.") "I really need to know, could you put your thinking cap on for a minute and find out why you were playing soccer in the house?" (Ponders , "I don't know"). "Try again please." (Breaks into tears , "I just don't know"). Ignoring the tears, "Well could you help me figure it out, you are not in trouble yet, I just need to know why." Sitting on the couch together, the parent asks more questions , "Were you just trying to have some fun? (Mutters , "Yes") "Okay, tell me about that." Basically, you want to say this line after the first REAL answer given, remember that you must stay calm! ("I was just trying to have some fun with my soccer ball because it was raining outside and I wanted to play.") This is the justification part, you are almost there! "Hmm, I understand your frustration. When it rains, I cannot work in my garden outside," Lighten the mood here with, "Perhaps I should bring my garden inside! I could plant everything right here!" Point to floor. (Smiles , "Nooooo" laughs ). "Why wouldn't that work?" (Because you can't plant the plants in the carpet!") "Oh okay, I guess you are right; can you think of any reasons why soccer doesn't work in the house?" Look at lamp. (Mumbles , "Because it can break things.") "Yes, you are right, I really do not want you to play soccer in the house, even when I am not here." Check child's face for understanding/agreement.
- Practice: "I am pretty sure that this will never happen again, but let me give you some practice so you will be ready when the temptation comes." Place soccer ball in middle of the floor and say, "I am going to leave for a minute, while I am gone, I want you to find a VERY safe way to play with that ball, without playing soccer in the house." Leave and come back, accept or correct depending on what child is doing. End with, "I am going to forget about this lamp, I can see that you are sorry, and I know you really didn't mean to break it, please don't ever play soccer in the house again." (Okay).
Problem solved! You both leave feeling uplifted (it's hard to say the same after spanking your seven year old!) And there is a much better chance that the problem will not reoccur.
I use this conversation method for much more than lamp-breaking (Matter of fact, I have never had a lamp breaking incident). By asking a lot of question and getting to the root of the problem you solve what you want, the child knows what you expect, and everybody leaves happy. This really works! It has been used on hundreds of children for many different reasons with a very high success rate. Using this method drastically cuts down on the amount of punishment you dish out and remember, when you cut out the middleman, both parties are left much happier with the outcome.
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