Punishment is not Discipline (Part 1)

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a Counseling psychologist in private practice working with individuals, couples, groups and companies. Apart from seeing clients face-to-face, Dr Jenner also runs a thriving online therapy business bringing help to those who are housebound or located in rural locations where therapy is difficult to find. Online Therapy details : Here

The first weeks of a baby’s life can be gruelling and tiring for the new parents. Some parents can be completely overwhelmed with this new life that is suddenly thrust upon them. During these early phases, mistakes can be made that can have an effect in the years to come.  Experts often cite the first three years in a child’s life as a very important if not the most important phase , a time when the behavior and attitudes show by the parents and other caregivers set a blueprint for adult life.

Just to put this into perspective..Alfred Adler , a Viennese psychiatrist believed that we are all born “hardwired” to seek connection with others. Adler felt strongly that this basic human need to belong, connect and find worth is influenced by our early experiences and consequently the early decisions we make about ourselves, others and the world around us. Recent research tells us that those children who enjoy this “connection” to their family, school and community are less likely to misbehave as children and underachieve as adults. Adler’s work is seen as the forerunner of the Positive Discipline “movement”.

Positive discipline is a process of teaching children how to behave appropriately and respects the rights of the individual child, the group, and the adult. It is different to punishment. Punishment tells children what they should not do; positive discipline tells children what they should do. Punishment teaches fear; positive discipline teaches self-esteem.

This is the key to understanding the difference between punishment and discipline because there is a big difference. How many times have you seen parents yelling, screaming, smacking and dragging their little one along the street in the name of “discipline”? How many times have you heard parents using threats, warnings and lectures to gain compliance in the name of “discipline”. All of these punishments create bad behavior and not only that..they lack respect, create considerable doubt in the child’s mind and lead to guilt and shame. They also have long-term effects. Some may be thinking at this point that I am advocating some kind of permissiveness and saying that children should be able to do as they please…nothing could be further from the truth. Permissiveness does not create a learning atmosphere nor does it create important skills needed later. Positive discipline on the other hand, coaches, guides, teaches and invites the child to make healthy choices by being part of the solution, not the problem. Children do not learn when they spend most of their time being threatened, scared or angry and in defensive mode. To some parents, this seems like compliance or rebellion but is purely a reaction and a need to regain the “connection”. In the child’s mind, this misbehavior works because it regains the parent’s attention…even though it is negative attention.  Cheryl Erwin, MD wrote in her famous book, The First Three Years, that punishment is “likely to produce the Four R’s…Resentment, Rebellion, Revenge and Retreat”…enough said.

In my next post, I will look at ways of implementing positive discipline.

  13 comments for “Punishment is not Discipline (Part 1)

  1. October 2, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    I completely agree 🙂

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  2. October 2, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    A really important distinction. Thank you for sharing this!!

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    • October 2, 2012 at 7:23 pm

      This has been on my mind for a while. I saw a woman in a local town smacking her child extremely hard because it wouldn’t move along quickly enough and she ended up dragging her away. I challenged her and asked her to put herself in the child’s shoes. I got a stream of profanity back. You see this far too often.

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      • October 2, 2012 at 7:25 pm

        Truth is not easy to hear. Especially in the heat of the moment. You can bet she thought of it later. She knows what she was doing was harsh and wrong. It’s a matter of lacking self-control. It is rare to understand these concepts because they are rarely taught. Another one that (in my opinion) needs to be taught: sex is not synonymous for love.

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      • October 2, 2012 at 7:29 pm

        I hope she did think about it later but I have my doubts. I do not totally accept the excuse that we are never “taught” these things. Of course, our parents did things differently but we can learn positive discipline. Isn’t a child worth it? As for sex not being love…agree…maybe another post!

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      • October 2, 2012 at 7:51 pm

        Of course a child is worth it, but sometimes parents get so busy (i.e. self-absorbed) they can’t actually see them.

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      • October 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm

        Very true but parents must keep an awareness of the fact that everything they do sends a message to the child, positive or negative. For example, even though we think that by helping a child to finish something (something we all do)…it is actually giving the child the message that they are incapable.

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  3. October 3, 2012 at 1:50 am

    I was raised by two mentally ill parents. Enough said. When I became a single parent, working all sorts of different shifts, I used to drag my poor, confused little boy by the hair to get him moving along. I sought therapy soon after, and the psychologist said I must not hurt my child or I will be reported to children’s services. I chose another therapist who helped me communicate verbally with my son. I took courses in communications. I’m happy to say that I rarely punished my son throughout the years. He has extremely high self-esteem. I’ve apologized for the earlier incidents, and he understands. Good topic Dr. Jenner.

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    • October 3, 2012 at 9:55 am

      Thanks for the comment and being so honest. The unfortunate thing is that when we most need to be aware of what we are doing to our children, we are often busy with other things. Your story turned out well but I am sure you will admit, it could have gone the other way.

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  4. eatwilmington
    October 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    My daughter is now 27 years old. As I travel the road of self-understanding and forgiveness in therapy I see more all the time about how my behavior and treatment of her as a child has impacted her adult behavior. Unfortunately, I cannot turn back time and do things differently. Instead, I work on slowly repairing the damage by changing my own thoughts and behaviors and breaking our cycle of dysfunction by acting and responding in healthier ways now – and being patient with the process! Thank you for this informative post – I look forward to part II.

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    • October 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm

      Thanks for the comment. All of the comments made here prove that parent behavior is the biggest factor in the development of a child`s personality. That said, it is incredibly difficult to consider this when as a new parent, you are overwhelmed by many things. I am sure there are many parents who would like to go back and change a few things.

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