Healthy Child Discipline: An Overview
Rodney L. Mulhollem
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said,
Speak to us of Children.
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts,
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,
Not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backwards not tarries with yesterday.
You are the bow from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archers hand be your gladness;
For even as He loves the arrows that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.
– From The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran
Discipline is a word that many misunderstand. There are as many kinds of disciplines as there are colors of the rainbow. There are, as well, many styles of discipline. Something important to remember is discipline and punishment is very different. Healthy discipline can involve punishment but punishment does not always involve discipline. You can have punishment in discipline but discipline is not just punishment. In the book Seven Things Children Need (1981, p.109), John Dresher defines discipline this way: “Discipline is not punishment or to force obedience… discipline requires both nurture and nature.” Discipline comes from the Latin word meaning ‘pupil’ which means to instinct, educate, and to train.
Punishment has a very different meaning. Punishment is defined as ‘the process of which a behavior is weakened, decreasing the likelihood of repetition.” (A Child’s World, D. Papalia; S. Olds & Feldman, 2008, p.31). Discipline’s focus is to train or educate as punishment is many times a temporary situation that may include a limited amount of physical pain or temporary removal of a privilege.
Bob was raised during the Great Depression. He was one of eight children as father and children worked in the coal mines to create enough income to barely feed the family. The stress level was very high at this time and in his family very little discipline was established but punishment was very common. Bob grew up and raised his own family having seven children. His word was solid and there was no question in what was expected. Any slight variance to his rules ended in extreme physical punishment. Questioning to understand the rules only ended with the statement, “You do what I say because I’m your father!”and a beating. My brothers, sisters, and I grew up afraid of our father and always were ready to be hit at any moment.
Bob had a style of parenting. Along with many styles or types of discipline are also types of parents. Myers, in the book Psychology (2007, p.162)uses the three following names: Authoritarian, Permissive, and Authorative.
This kind of parent establishes rules and boundaries expecting obedience. There are no questions or explanations just rules. An example of this would be a ‘Do this because I said so’ attitude. No questions asked. Many times this parent can be physically abusive and lack greatly in any kind of encouragement, healthy touch and nurturing
A permissive parent is many times the extreme opposite of the authoritarian parent. This parent gives into the child’s every wants and desires. Many times there is minimal to no punishment but shows much understanding. This kind of parent many times sees no wrong in anything the child does or chooses not to correct the child in any way.
This parent sets and establishes boundaries and rules as well as explains to the child the reasoning behind the decisions made. They are consistent in the enforcement of rules but also offer encouragement, healthy touch and reinforcement. With older children they encourage the discussion of their decisions and the boundaries set and why.
Studies have found children with higher self esteems, healthy social interaction, and self-reliance usually has nurturing, caring, and concerned authoritative parents. (S Coopersmith, 1967; D. Baumrind, 1996 and J. Buri and others, 1988)Children with authoritarian parents usually show more traits of pour social skills and low self esteem while children with permissive parents many times show more traits of aggression and immaturity. Parents of delinquent youngsters normally discipline with beatings thus modeling aggravation as a method of dealing with problems (Patterson and others, 1982, 1992). They often give into the child’s tears and/or temper tantrums. Most of the time these parents punish out of anger.
It’s important for children to have a healthy structured discipline. There are also many false assumptions. Three false assumptions include:
It is important for a parent/child relationship to take priority over the parent’s personal relationship. Marriage is permanent while parenting is just a chapter of a parent’s life. “Nothing is as central for a child’s happiness and sense of self worth as the love of father and mother for each other.” (Seven Things Children Need, p.22)
Another false assumption is a child rightfully deserves attention and thus needs to be the center of attention. This builds an attitude in a child of ‘what can I get’ selfish attitude instead of a ‘what can I give’ attitude.
A third false assumption is children should be pushed as fast as possible into more mature role models and levels of responsibilities. It is important to allow a child to be a child. Many times parents will push their children to achieve more simply because of their own self ego or trying to live through their children’s lives, making up for things the parents did not have the opportunity to experience themselves.
Along with a psychology of child discipline, biology is also something that needs to be addressed and contemplated to help understand the psychology as well as style, type and levels of discipline. Many parents ask if physical punishment is wrong. Psychical punishment can in infused with discipline and can be healthy and effective; however there needs to be a balance. There are different feelings on physical punishment as part of a healthy discipline. Something to consider is the amount of physical punishment, the level of pain the child goes, where and how the child is truck as well as the consistency of that or any other kind of punishment. Many believe leaving marks on a child is crossing the line into abuse versus healthy discipline. Something to remember is consistency of punishment and style of discipline is very important. It is also healthy to teach a child a ‘lower level’ of painful punishment over the alternative of the consequences of a much worse result of disobedience. An example would be slapping a child’s fingers for reaching for the stove. The ‘low level’ of painful punishment to teach a lesson of learning to obey far outweighs if a child chooses not to listen and runs into the street after a ball when with a car approaching and the child is instructed to stop and let the ball go. If
the child was not taught to listen with a less important situation; they most likely will not listen in much more important decisions.
Another important aspect to consider with the style of discipline is the age of the child. A child at an earlier age does not have the maturation of the frontal cortex and thus cannot think logically. Emotional based decisions can lead to disaster. A two year old, for example, can get stuck in an emotional state like crying or anger. It is important for the parent to understand this is not a discipline problem but a biological stage of maturation of the brain. How you handle a two year old is probably wiser to create a more dictatorship style of discipline than a democratic style. A teenager on the other hand, although still having an overwhelming emotional reaction versus logical thinking is much more able to think rationally. The older the child the more you can move towards discussing logical reasons for your chose of rules and consequences.
The Bible also has information on rearing a child. Proverbs 22:6 (NIV) tells us to ‘train a child’. Train again is part of the root meaning of discipline not punishment. Training a child is a process and includes many aspects from discussion, motivation, healthy touch, and love as well as a type of discipline. Ephesians 6:4 (NIV) ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’ Note here there are two emphases: not to bring a child to exasperate (anger or rage) as well as training and instruction. All of these go hand in hand. Again note the word train.
Some have noted the biblical reference of Proverbs 22:15 (KJV) ‘Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.’ or Proverbs 29:15 (KJV) ‘the rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.’ There are two things we need to note here. First the book of Proverbs are what they say… proverbs or wise statements collected by the author, mostly likely Solomon. Proverbs are not promises and thus need to be understood as such. Secondly to correctly translate a verse, hermeneutics is needed. These verses also are not clear on the amount of ‘rod of correction’ nor ‘rod and reproof’. If you put all the verses together as listed above (Prov. 22:6, 22:15, 29:15 and Eph. 6:4), this paints a bigger picture. Focusing on one part of the whole would be like expecting a car to work properly with only putting gas in it when the fuel is just one small part of the entire process of maintenance. Eventually the care will fall apart due to a focus on just one small part of a large process with the result of a car of no value. With children, if you use only one process of discipline whether it is only punishment, only love, only education and so forth; the child will end up unbalanced.
Baumrinf, D. (1996). The discipline controversy revisited. Family Relations, 45, 405-414
Buri, J.R., Louiselle, P.A., Misukanis, T.M., & Mueller, R.A. (1988). Effects of parental authoritarianism and authoritativeness on self esteem. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 14,271-282.
Coopersmith, S. (1967). The antecedents of self-esteem. San Francisco: Freedman.
Dresher, J.M. (1981). Seven Things Children Need pp. 22,109
Olds & Feldman. (2008) A Child’s World
Patterson, G.R., Chamberlain, P., & Reid, J.B. (1982). A comparative evaluation of parent training procedures. Behavior Therapy, 13,638-650, (pp.333, 752)
Myers, D.G. (2007) Psychology. (p.162)