To discipline means to instruct a person to follow a particular code of conduct, while the purpose of discipline is to develop and entrench desirable social habits in children. These habits are what will enable children to become productive members of society in adulthood. For children discipline is a set of rules, rewards and punishments to teach self-control. Punishments should never do physical, mental or emotional harm when dispensed. Kohn (2005) teaches us that when a major infraction occurs, parents should apply a consequence that has enough symbolic value that it convinces the child not to repeat the offense.
Discipline is one of the most important elements in rearing children. The ultimate goal is to foster sound judgment and morals so the child will develop and maintain self-discipline throughout the rest of their life. Through proper discipline, children learn how to function in a family and society that is full of boundaries, rules, and laws by which we all must abide. Effective punishment can enable children to learn self-control and responsibility of their own behavior.
Many experts, including The American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] (1998) believe that effective punishment consists of both punitive and non-punitive methods, but does not involve any forms of physical punishment. The punishment set forth by the parents should be effective enough that it reduces the need for more punishment, and decrease the repeat of the offense. An imperative key we learn from Ross (1993) is that the focus be on the misbehavior and not on the punishment.
The punishment set forth by the parent or guardian should change the misbehavior in the child, thereby decreasing the chance of any repeats of he misbehavior. A second key from Ross (1993) informs us that parents should keep in mind that part of reprimanding for misbehaving is also reminding children of what is behaving correctly. For the child to learn right from wrong, they need to be informed of what is right. This follow through is as important as the punishment. Building a Foundation To build and maintain a foundation for discipline to become effective, parents will need an assortment of components. The AAP (1998) informs us that there are four key components needed that are essential.
First needed is a loving and supportive relationship between the child and parent. Second is a positive proactive system to support desirable behaviors. Third, is a non-combative approach for dealing with the misbehavior. Last, is consistency, parents will need to be consistent in using disciplinary techniques on a regular basis. Should parents fail to discipline a misbehavior or fail to support a desirable behavior upon each occurrence, then the child can receive a mixed message on what is right or wrong. Each of these components relies on one another to become successful as a whole (AAP, 1998).
Effective Discipline Methods Respectful communication between the child and parent is another component. However, this behavior will need to be taught to children as explained by the AAP (1998). Parents can accomplish this by modeling respectful communication themselves. From a young age, the child will begin imitating those that are surrounding them. Thereby the parents modeling the behaviors they seek to have in their children, can accomplish two components in a single effort. In addition, when communicating parents should be specific with their child, rather it is praising for a desirable behavior or correcting a misbehavior.
Essentially, parents need to give correction without direction. They should also avoid using abstract language; and state in age appropriate terms that the child will understand. This will avoid confusion on the childs part on what behavior was incorrect and why it was. According to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development [NICHD] (2001), for correction through discipline to have a lasting effect, it must have reforming value. Parents will need to be prepared to deal with each misbehavior in advance by having clear defined strategies of effective discipline to use.
For success, it is imperative that each punishment given fit the misbehavior. Some of the most effective punishments are also the most time consuming for a parent. Keep in mind though the rewards are by far greater when seeing the child moving through each developmental stage with ease, largely due to the parents continued use of effective discipline. The most commonly used discipline method is isolation or more informally referred to as a time-out for toddler discipline. This consists of temporarily separating a child from an environment where the inappropriate behavior has occurred.
The Nemours Foundation (2008a) explains that the theory behind a time-out is that children are frightened by their own lack of control thus leading to a tantrum. Moreover, when given the chance to regain self-control on their own in a quiet place free of distractions, learn to develop internal self-control. Again, follow through is needed, where the parent will explain what the misbehavior was to the child to increase the chances of fewer occurrences in the future. An infrequent punishment to be applied for a misbehavior would be depravation. To deprive or refuse a child a privilege has to equal the severity of the misbehavior.
Moreover, children should learn that privileges come with responsibility and be earned. A privilege that is of value to the child, such as watching television or playing with friends, would be a privilege to remove. An example of a mismatch would be a depriving a toddler their favorite television program for a month for forgetting to pick up their toys. The infraction does not equal the punishment; the length of time is too long for the age of the child. An important point for parents to remember when using this method of discipline with very young children is that toddlers generally have very short memories as recommended by Ross (1993).
So when a privilege is taken away from a child for two or three days the child may forget about the punishment the second day. Grounding is a form of punishment usually for older children and teenagers that restricts their movement inside and outside of the home. However, bear in mind that extended periods can backfire, causing the child to feel persecuted or picked on and starting a negative retaliation cycle. Many experts including author Kohn (2005) suggest compounding grounding with other alternatives that would allow them to earn a reduction in the grounding period.
Likewise, depending upon the nfraction that occurred parents could also increase the severity of grounding by restricting the child from certain privileges in the home as well as outside of the home, like no television or phone calls. Another effective discipline tactic is reparation. Reparation is an active punishment, meaning the child will need to work off the infraction before allowed to do anything else. While working off the infraction the child will have time to reflect over the incident and the subsequent consequence. An example would be an extra chore not normally done by the child, like washing the windows versus picking up their room.
Reparation also takes supervision from the parents, where deprivation does not. The Nemours Foundation (2008b) however believes that, of the two, reparation is the more effective of the two punishments. Another effective discipline for older children and teenagers would be the use of logical consequences. This provides opportunities that allow children to make decisions on their own, and incidentally learning to weigh the consequences of their actions. This discipline practice offers both a discipline for the misbehavior and a great building block for children, teaching them to think ahead of instant gratification.
Using logical consequences does require some creativity, time and energy on the part of the parents. The net gain is worthwhile because it effectively teaches children lessons in behaving in socially acceptable ways and in becoming a mature, responsible adult. An example would be allowing the child to work off an infraction and because they have done such a good job without complaining, you have given them five dollars. Next, allow the child to make the decision either to use the money to pay off a previous debt to the next-door neighbor for having broken their window or to use it for ice cream later with their friends.
When the child chooses to pay off the debt, the parent would give high praise and possibly an additional reward for making such a mature decision. Logical reasoning and positive reinforcement work very well together in producing the desirable results wanted in teenagers. NICHD (2001) points out that a child can learn, that mistakes are an inevitable part of life and that it is not so important that they made a mistake but that they take responsibility to correct the mistake (Nemours Foundation, 2008b; NICHD, 2001).
Praise and intangible rewards are a great practice to use when rewarding desirable behavior. Positive reinforcement through praise is something children will receive not just from their parents but also from their teachers, friends and eventually their employer and co-workers. The NICHD (2001) emphasizes that children are more responsive to positive statements; however make sure your compliments are truthful. Children, like adults, will see through false flattery. Reinforcement should also be age-appropriate.
Expecting a teenager to change their behavior by rewarding them with stickers is likely to be ineffective. The flip to positive reinforcement is satiation. Satiation is the term used to describe a situation of a reinforcement losing its effectiveness. For example, if a child is receiving sweets as reinforcement, it is likely that after an extended period of time they will tire of the candy thus losing effectiveness. Satiation can also occur if too much reinforcement is being used, as pointed out by the Nemours Foundation (2008b).
An example would be, earning up to ten minutes of playtime a day might serve as reinforcement for a longer period of time, versus being given the opportunity to earn an hour of play time. Examples of positive reinforcement for younger children would be hugs, special time, unique privileges, etc. , for encouraging good behavior (Nemours Foundation, 2008b; NICHD, 2001). Corporal Punishment and the Negative Effects The most disconcerting form of punishment is physical punishment. Physical punishment has negative effects, both mentally and emotionally on every living being in this world.
Moreover, when physical punishment is applied to children for a misbehavior it severs no reforming valve. A childs mind will not understand the context to what is right or wrong. They will only know pain, fear, and the fear will grow and overshadow logical reasoning. When a parent strikes a child, they are communicating to the child that they are bigger, stronger and entitled to be violent. When the child grows up, they will feel that they are entitled to act the same way. Parents who use physical punishment as a method of correcting a misbehavior are instilling fear in the child vs. sense of right and wrong.
Sanders, Cann and Markie-Dadds (2003) inform us that parents who are at risk of abusing their children are more likely to have unrealistic expectations of childrens capabilities. Physical punishment sends a mixed message to children and reinforces aggressive behavior. According to Vittrup and Holden (2006), when parents model aggressive behaviors by spanking, they reinforce the idea that physical aggression is the way to get what you want. Parents can break away from using physical punishment as a discipline method.
It is possible for well-intentioned loving parents to get angry enough with their children to use physical punishment like spanking or slapping. However, this is a slippery slope for parents. Parents see the instant result when the child is three from a spank on the butt and will be quicker to use this method again to achieve the same results, as they grow older. Parents may only mean for the spanking to be a punishment, however many experts state that it is more accurately used as a means of releasing the parents own anger and frustration.
Although these parents are well aware that the purpose of discipline is to teach, the danger of using physical punishment repeatedly and abusing the child becomes greater. The AAP (1998) maintains apart from suffering physical pain, the child will also feel as though there is something wrong with them (instead of something wrong with their behavior). This can create resentment, rejection and humiliated. All of which can lead to body and self-image issues in the child later in life. Any form of physical punishment is traumatic and parents should take heed before striking a child.
According to the Severe (1996) as well as many other child development experts, physical punishment can provoke violent thoughts in a childs mind and possibly teach them that violence is an acceptable behavior in a relationship. Author Vittrup and Holden (2006) tells us that repetition of physical punishment can make the child immune against it and then it will not even work as a temporary correction method. The AAP (1998) points out that, discipline should be based on expectations that are appropriate for the age of the child, and it should be used to set reasonable, consistent limits while permitting choices among acceptable alternatives.
Discipline teaches children moral and social standards. The APP (1998) contends discipline should also protect children from harm by teaching what is safe while guiding them to respect the rights and property of others. Although verbal explanations may help older children understand their punishment, reasoning is ineffective if children are incapable of understanding the explanation. According to Nemours Foundation (2009c), children younger than 18 months are typically unable to apply the context of the reasons for punishment, therefore their overwhelming desire to explore heir environment makes punishment less effective.
In the moment of an incident and those immediately following, parents can feel a mix of emotions and they will need to separate their anger before they impose a punishment. The best advice from the Nemours Foundation ( 2009c) to a parent in the heat of the moment during an incident of misbehavior is for the parent to take time to cool down. Telling the child to go to their room will thereby give the parent time to calm down and rationally think over the incident before dispensing with a punishment.
The parent can then avoid lashing out in anger or fear. When the parent is clam enough, they can then engage the child and talk over the incident, explaining the why of the misbehavior and what the childs punishment will be. According to the Vittrup and Holden (2006) yelling, threatening, scolding, and spanking are not considered effective punishments. As these reactions release the parents anger, however they have little long-term effect on correcting the misbehavior, and are primarily a release valve for the parents frustration.
Physical punishment is also a leading cause in the destruction of the trust bonds between parents and children. Some researchers, including authors Kohn (2005) and Severe (1996), have maintained that corporal punishment actually works against its objective (obedience); since children will not voluntarily obey an adult, they do not trust. Children subjected to physical punishment will grow resentful, shy, insecure and or violent. Once the bonds of trust are in question by the child, the entire foundation parents built to form effective discipline in children will be destroyed.
Since the core of the foundation is a loving caring environment with trust, the child will feel incapable of trusting the parent in the future. Conclusion Parenting professionals and organizations including the NICHD (2001) are participating in an ongoing effort to change traditional parental use of physical punishment for a means of discipline to more effective non-physical methods. While a major purpose of discipline is to develop desirable social habits in children, the ultimate goal is to foster sound judgment and morals so children will develop and maintain self-discipline throughout the rest of their lives.
Children raised in a way that stresses positive non-physical discipline will understand their own behavior better, show independence, and respect themselves and others. These children will then carry forward the non-violent methods of effective punishment onto their children and the cycle will keep repeating for future generations. In many cultures, parents have historically had the right to use physical punishment when appropriate in discipline. However, legislation in some countries has changed in recent years, particularly in continental Europe.
Domestic corporal punishment has now, been outlawed in 25 countries around the world, beginning with Sweden in 1979. The United States is not one of these countries; however, through means of education we can evolve and join their ranks. To borrow from Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American Human Rights Activist, character is higher than intellect. It is the choices we make in the moment of the incident and those immediately following that determine our character and set an example for our children to follow.