Discipline Vs. Punishment

I used to think that Discipline = Punishment.

I grew up in a house that spanked, and although I didn’t like it I figured there wasn’t any other way to maintain order. I read all the books that said that every child needed to be spanked, and not only that, but that the bible commanded us to do it. With my oldest child I dutifully tried to follow the guidelines I had read about in the Michael Pearl or Ezzo books.

Spank consistently for every offence. Never spank in anger. Don’t use your hand because your hands should be used for loving. Plus the Pearls promised in their book that if you started early, by the time they were 6 or so they wouldn’t even misbehave anymore and then you wouldn’t have to spank at all. No more spanking? That sounded good to me.

It made sense right? She would learn to never do bad things and always obey since there was ALWAYS a consequence for doing wrong. She would respect my as the one with authority over her, and even when she got older she wouldn’t forget that I was the one in charge.

Ms Action never seemed very fazed by this. She was a very normal, active and crazy little kid. She loved to do things like emptying the garbage cans and cabinets. She ran away when I called her and unrolled the toilet roll and ate Vaseline and dumped the cereal out onto the floor. Even when she got a swat on her bottom for touching things, she would pout for a minute or two and then go happily right back to do it again.

I was at a loss, my “discipline” didn’t seem to be working. Maybe I was doing it wrong, maybe I just needed to spank harder or more often, maybe I just had one of those especially defiant kids. Trouble was, Ms action didn’t seem like an overly “bad” child, pretty normal to me. Actually I found myself admiring her adventurous spirit and her enthusiasm for life. I didn’t want to spank harder or more often (I was what the Pearls or Ezzo’s would call “soft”), I just wanted to do what was right and train up my children in the way they should go.

As time went on my daughter got better and better at getting into trouble. Now I had 2 children toddling about and disobeying together. As “discipline” got more frequent my oldest actually began to become defiant, she started hitting her sister or even me at times. One day a few months ago it seemed that all I had done with my little 2 year old daughter that day was “discipline”, and in frustration I banned all spanking from the house. I was tired of trying to maintain weird rules like “its OK for mommy to hit people, but you can’t hit”, and as much as I tried to adhere to the “never spank when angry” rule, it seemed I was almost always angry when she needed to be spanked.

I started thinking about what I was doing wrong. Why wasn’t I getting the obedience/results that I wanted and the structure my children needed? I even started reading some of the secular child-raising books from the library.(!) And one day I read something that changed the way I thought about it. It said something like “Discipline isn’t punishment, discipline is training, and you should be training yourself as much as your children.”

Discipline without punishment? That seemed impossible, but I decided to try. Since every discipline system I had tried only seemed to get less effective the more it was used, maybe this was the answer.
With spanking no longer an option I was forced to think about each situation of disobedience that came up. I started to question why it was happening; Was she stealing fruit because she was hungry? Because she wanted attention? Because it was just to tempting to have the fruit basket at eye level?

Once I started thinking about it, I realized 3 things.

1. I was as much a part of the problem as my children.
If I was not telling them consistently what I expected of them, encouraging them in their efforts and giving them the attention they needed in positive ways, I was just asking for disobedience.

My real job is disciplining myself to teach my children to be disciplined.
I didn’t want my children to obey blindly and mindlessly because they were afraid of the consequences. Did I really want to be “in charge”? Honestly, I wanted my children to learn to be in charge of themselves. Obviously not at the age of 3, but I want to be teaching them the skills that help the do the right thing on their own steam.

I needed to respect my children as people, not subjects.
I expect to be treated with respect. If someone came up behind me grabbed me and unceremoniously carted me off and began brushing me teeth you better believe I’d put up a fight! I started talking more to my children, telling them what we were going to do before hand instead of just barking orders that I expected to be obeyed. I started to understand my children better. When my 15 month old began waking up every single morning immediately threw a full-out-screaming-on-the-floor tantrum, I discovered it wasn’t because she was going through a rebellious stage, it was because she had hit a growth spurt and woke up so hungry she didn’t even know how to think straight. Taking her directly from her bed to her high chair with food waiting on the tray each morning solved that problem.

This may be pathetic, but it was a huge breakthrough for me. My children are people too, they have the same struggles I do. Its my job to teach them how to handle their temptations and feelings, how to love, and how to serve God and others. And that shouldn’t include teaching them to obey blindly without thought. Or hitting or otherwise forcing people to do what you want. Or teaching them that emotions or feelings and desires are bad things.

I am obviously a Young Mom, I am not saying that I have figured it all out, or that everyone should do as I do, or that I don’t have more to learn as my children grow older! I am just pondering what I have learned.

I have discovered that I prevent most disobedience by communication. My children are still wild little things that love to explore, but they are just as co-operative as before, and much much happier.

And so am I.

Be sure to join me on my journey as I learn to be gentle parent!

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14586469381231517883 This Heavenly Life

    BRAVO! This is beautiful and wonderful. Thank you!

    I feel *exactly* the same way, and feel so saddened when kids are just "unceremoniously" expected to know how the world works. They have feelings. Of course it's scary and maybe painful when your head or arms are getting stuck in a shirt..of course you'd scream if that was happening…it doesn't take punishment, though! It takes understanding of their perspective, and a thoughtful, reassuring communication.

    Wonderful thoughts. I'm going to re-read them a few times now :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10254315970336710941 CM

    This makes a lot of sense. I guess I never really thought of it in that way before, but I'll keep it in mind for someday.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14531295054177327685 clairesd

    This was good for me to read. I had an "aha" moment when I read something by Elizabeth Foss awhile ago about how the point of discipline is to train children in how to live. Punishment doesn't do that; it doesn't help them set habits or exercise self-restraint.
    I liked your point about how we need to learn discipline, too. How many times when I am pointing out some failing of the kids' do I realize that it is the exact thing I need to be working on? (like when I hear myself saying things like, "Why do I need to remind you of this EVERY SINGLE day?" As if I am such a good learner that I learn my lessons on the first try… Not hardly!)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05159812857557525424 April

    Sooo not pathetic! I really enjoyed reading this :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05488509129367354455 Jo@Mylestones

    I so appreciate you sharing your perspective on this. I've struggled in a very similar way. It helps to (a) know I'm not alone and (b) learn from your "breakthrough" insight!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15210547864713460125 beck’sthree

    Thanks for sharing this one. I completely agree with you even though I do still spank my children. Too often we don't consider how the world looks and feels to them.

    I once told my then three-year old son to "stop being wild!!!" and he responded with "Mom, I'm not being wild; I'm saving the world." It was just the perspective shift I needed! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14659411240699818388 rachel

    We are soooo in the same place. Growing up with the Pearl's mentality and starting with spanking my kiddos and now wanting grace and communication – you put it so well and it's so encouraging to read this when I know only ONE family IRL who doesn't spank. :)