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Child Development

Discipline for Parents with Children

Time Out Chair

Punishment is less effective than rewards in shaping behavior. Studies have shown that using punishment as a training tool may produce desired behavior for an instant but the child is more likely to become neurotic, fearful, anxious and helpless.

Rewarding desirable behavior has been shown to be much more effective in teaching and training a child. Also, inconsistent rewards have been shown to increase the child.s tendency to repeat the desirable behavior. In contrast, inconsistent punishment creates tension and anxiety.

Think about a slot machine. The player is rewarded inconsistently which increases the players desire to continue to try for that allusive reward. If the slot machine were to deliver an electrical when the match was not a desirable one the player would quickly become frustrated and would stop trying to get the desired match. Children will forgo the potential reward and give up trying to behave in a positive way if they are given negative consequences for their missteps along the way.

Physical Punishment

Spanking is often thought to be a socially acceptable way of dealing with a misbehaving child, but being "socially acceptable" is not a good reason to rationalize the method. Spankers commonly defend their method of controlling their child by exclaiming that they were spanked and they .turned out alright. when in fact, they did not. They never learned how to raise children without violence. And even more obvious to a trained eye, they have missed out on many of lifes joys because they were never taught how to generalize what they learn.

Spanking causes children to stop behaving in a particular way at the moment, but it doesn.t teach them how to learn from their experiences and apply those lessons to similar experiences as they grow through life. For instance a child might learn that if they run into the street they get hit, so they stop running into the street when that offending parent is around. But they aren.t able to understand that running into the street is something they should not ever do because bad things might happen to them if they do. That requires abstract thinking which children do not yet have. Learning this lesson requires a calm parent teaching them why they need to obey that rule.

Often parents hit their children because they feel social pressure to do something, and because they are frustrated and perhaps ignorant of productive discipline skills; they fall back on the one thing they can do without thinking.

This response to misbehavior can become a trap and an ineffective habit for frustrated parents. The tendency is for parents to use or abuse their authority, rather than finding better methods of discipline. Spanking is quick and has immediate effects with the least effort. Using other methods that have longer lasting results, requires more effort. Choosing the easier road is often a result of selfishness on the part of the frustrated parent. Choosing the more effective method requires time, energy and even emotions. The selfish parent finds it difficult to follow such demanding discipline guidelines.

Consequences - What Works, What Doesn't

A logical consequence is a chosen manner of discipline that is closely related to the negative behavior from which the child can learn a lesson about their behaviour. An example might be that the child isn.t allowed to go out and play after school because the day before he snuck out to play without cleaning his room first. Ideally the child would have been forewarned that the consequence for playing before cleaning the room would be to be prevented from playing the following day regardless of what was scheduled for the following day.

Logical consequences are used by the parent in an effort to promote a learning experience for the child. They are not intended to show the child how wrong they were. Logical consequences should be closely related to the misbehavior being addressed. They should be delivered without anger and followed up with discussion about the misbehavior. The child's feelings about the consequence and what has been learned are an important part of the discipline/learning process.

The child's feelings should never be criticized or judged. Rather, the parent needs to listen to whatever the child says, without interpreting or taking it personally, and without attempting to fix a negative feeling.

Imagine that you child has just yelled "I HATE YOU" before storming off to their room, slamming the door. It would be easy for the parent to take this personally and then fall into the trap of punishing the child for expressing anger, or hurting the parent's feelings. The parent needs to remember who the adult is and refrain from using their power and authority to lash out at the child. Rather, it would be much more productive for the parent to realize that the child's inexperienced ability to communicate feelings resulted in a verbal explosion. The child was feeling intensely and did not know how else to express themselves.

By exploding back at the child, the parent is teaching the child several things:

  • That expressing feelings is not OK in this family
  • That the way to respond when one's feelings get hurt is to fight back or to seek revenge.
  • That the child is responsible to protect the parent from their own feelings.
  • That it isn.t really important to learn self control, after all, the parent didn't

In this case it might be better for the parent to give the child some space, allow the child to experience their feelings, and take a few moments to collect their own feelings. Then, after everyone has calmed down, the parent might sit down and talk with the child using I messages (I feel___, when___, because___) and reflective listening (repeating what you think they are saying) .

The parent might say something like, "I felt hurt when you said you hated me, because I care about you so much, and I could never hate you." Listen to the child.s response and repeat what you hear by saying .So you are feeling angry that you can.t go to the party on Sunday?. Once everyone.s feelings are sorted through and understood the parent should talk to the child about healthier ways to express anger rather than by lashing out.

By doing this, the parent is teaching the child several things:

  • That having feelings is human and OK (even angry feelings)
  • That the parent is a good role model for how to handle angry feelings
  • That the way to deal with anger is to talk about their feelings rather than to act them out
  • That their behavior affects others

Logical consequences, whenever possible, need to be understood ahead of time so that the child doesn't feel as if the parent is being vengeful. The ideal situation is when the consequences are discussed ahead of time and the parent and the child take part in designing them. The child is then more able to accept them without rebellion and they know that when they choose the behavior they are also choosing the consequences.

What to Do

  • Share your problem with the other people involved. Include emotions, feelings and reasoning.
  • Structure consequences and learning experiences. Natural and logical consequences are most effective.
  • Attend to positive behavior and ignore the negative. Children do that which is most immediately rewarding.
  • Use compulsion to control a child ONLY IN EMERGENCIES. ie. when a child lacks ability or judgment, a parent must intercede. If the child is playing with fire you must take over. However if the child is simply annoying you or misbehaving or rebelling, you should try the first three methods above.
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