Spanking, time-out, or other discipline/parenting approaches to child-raising?

I will say I have found reward charts of very limited value for younger children.  They really need immediate consequences (good and bad) in order to make connections.  Also, some children, even after they are old enough to understand the connection, still have trouble with delayed consequences (good or bad).  An ice-cream cone six days from now, or even six hours, doesn’t seem nearly as real to some children as the misbehavior they want to engage in right now.

I’ve seen many parents who may claim they have a certain method they use, time-out, charts, natural consequences, whatever and it doesn’t work- too often they aren’t really implementing that- the child cannot really learn the behavior expected of him because too many parents make their reactions dependent on _their_ moods rather than the child’s behavior.   Or they are too rigid in application, lacking any common sense or sense of proportion (or sense of humour).

I have also seen that while all normal children learn through pleasant and unpleasant consequences, what is unpleasant for one child may be a delight to another.  One of mine had such an imagination that she considered time out to be a total joy- in seconds she was all alone in her own little world and would be startled when I told her her three minute time-out was up. She’d often say that she was having fun and wanted to stay where she was!  It’s all well and good to say that a child in time out should not have access to toys or books, but when you have a child who makes toys and living characters out of her fingers and toes, you need something other than time-out! (and it wasn’t spanking). But what mattered at least as much as the method, we learned, was consistency.

 I have reached the point where I just don’t think the discipline method matters nearly as much as the  manner in which it’s implemented and the relationship. 

There are many ways to help your child learn consequences, time-outs, reward charts, ‘restrictions (of toys, of activities), extra chores, even spanking- some of them more effective than others, some work better for one child than another. (I personally find that younger children don’t really connect abstract concepts like losing a toy or a privilege with misbehavior, but YMMV). But even the most effective method is only as good as the manner in which it is applied. Explain that certain behavior is unacceptable- children do understand a lot more than we often give them credit for, but they aren’t very good mind readers.  You do need to make sure that they are not astonished by consequences or discipline because they had no idea something was not okay.  

 Choose a behavior.  I ‘ll go with throwing toys.  It doesn’t matter if you are fine with throwing toys in the house, choose a different behavior and apply the general ideas. 

The first thing to do is explain that we don’t throw toys.  Whenever you see him throw a toy, rather than taking that toy away from him, help him practice handing the toy politely to somebody if he’s asked for a toy and wants to throw it, or  do a hand over hand demonstration of the acceptable things to do with toys. 

 Verbally correct the inappropriate behavior (gently, but firmly- ‘we don’t throw our toys. It can hurt somebody.’).  Then have him model the proper behavior,  hold his hand, and  hand it over nicely, with lots of praise. If it is a ball he throws, tell him balls are for throwing _outside_, rolling is for inside, and then sit down and roll the ball.

This is not exactly misbehavior, so far, it’s just exuberance, or forgetfulness. But it still needs to be dealt with every time, immediately.  If you have told him he may not throw his toys in the house, then you must follow through on that every time, even if you think it is funny (once my son threw a doll at his sister, but let go too soon and it dropped on his own head,  and then looked astonished). If you reprimand or correct or remind him one time but merely laugh at him another for what seems to him to be the same behavior, you’re sending him a very mixed, and confusing, message. Now, sometimes, he doesn’t want to practice doing it nicely. That is where the discipline method you choose for your family comes into play, and as long as you are using it to lovingly teach rather than to relieve your feelings through anger, and it isn’t abusive, I really don’t think it matters much what it is, as long as you are consistent.  

I’m not going to define abusive, because it would take too long. It is not as easy as saying spanking is and time out isn’t.   People who don’t have a solid sense of proportion, who are too rigid or too loosey goosey won’t be helped by such definitions.  They will take them the wrong way, no matter what.  Before you figure out your discipline method, you kind of need not to be a ninny.

I know a family that uses time-outs in a quite abusive way.  I know of a social services agency that advocates ‘shunning,’ whereby the parent tells the child he is not being cooperative, so must not have contact with the parent. The parent is supposed to ignore the child, refusing eye contact, touch, and nearly all communication (except to tell the child his behavior is unacceptable and so he cannot have contact)- turning his back on the child and walking away if the child tries to hug him, for either a set amount of time or until the child apologizes and corrects his behavior.  This form of discipline seems harsh and emotionally damaging to me, but it’s social worker approved, whereas other, less rejecting methods are not.

 So you have to choose your own, assuming you are not a ninny,  based on your love for and what you want to communicate to your child. Once you have chosen, be consistent. Consistency means that you correct the behavior because you have said you would, not because of how you feel.This is _so_ important.  We really confuse our children and encourage them to be little terrors when we teach them we don’t mean what we say. If we have said that it is unacceptable in our family to spit, then we must follow through on that, whether we are tired, or hungry, or in a hurry, or in a very good mood and particularly amused by a novel and unique way of spitting that our child has discovered. You don’t have to be mean or ugly about it- you can say something like, “Oh, that really is different and I see you are having fun, but spitting is yucky, and it is against the rules in our family, so please stop.”  or simply (with a smile), “yes, that is funny, but it is also rude.  Stop, please.” The child must always understand that his actions have consequences because that is the way life is- not that his actions have consequences because of the mood you are in, not because he has made you mad, or even accidentally hurt you.   I have been known to say, “I’m laughing, but you’re still in trouble, you know that, right?”  Not that I was always successful.  

If you’ve chosen not to permit throwing toys in the house, then the consequences for throwing toys should be the same whether the child accidentally hits hits you in the nose and cuts your face with a toy or whether nobody gets hurt at all-(Assuming no injury is intended, and the child is not so old as to make the infraction itself an act of rebellion rather than mere childishness. ( If he were older or angrier and intended injury, that would be a different story). Using the toy throwing example, too often parents will ignore a child throwing his toys, or express frustration over it without actually _doing_ anything about it, until some time the child gets ‘lucky’ and a parent ends up in the line of fire or the child accidentally breaks a china ornament- and then the parent explodes, or suddenly decides to act when he has never acted before, and the child really isn’t to blame. There should always be a consequence for an unacceptable action- regardless of whether the action has upset you or broken something you value or injured a sibling. If you have offered a consequence in anger and then you realize it was wrong,  you owe it to your child to apologize, explain why you realize you said something dumb, and you’ve changed your mind.  If you thought it through and have good reasons, you have the obligation or to enforce what you said.  And that consequence always needs to be proportionate- don’t threaten stupid things.  Don’t go to nuclear for every rule.  

One of our consequences for a while for a certain infraction was to stand and sing a silly song.  Later, for a different infraction and different children, it was to hold their hands over their heads for a minute or two. It might be push-ups.   Have a sense of proportion.  The consequence for deliberate lying to get somebody else in trouble and forgetting to take out the trash really shouldn’t be equal.

This means it helps to think first, before making rules, and it helps to have very few such rules=)

If you have not been being consistent, if you have been relying on how you feel to determine whether or not there is a consequence for behavior rather than letting the behavior determine consequences, it is not too late to start. It will take a while for your child to trust that you mean what you say, so it may seem at first that this isn’t working either, but stick with it (about six weeks), scrupulously taking care that you demonstrate that the child determines consequences by his behavior- not that consequences are determined by your mood. 

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  1. teachergirl
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a parent, but a teacher, but this is still timely advice for me. I have a challenging class this year, and I think some of it is due to my lack of consistency in discipline. I am such a softy and let things go when they shouldn’t, or don’t take the time to discipline/remind/redirect/repractice because I think we don’t have the time (even though if I was more consistent, theoretically the behaviors would decrease and we would have more time).
    And the funny. Sometimes it’s so hard not to crack up at my students’ antics!
    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Lisa Beth W.
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Such good reminders! And speaking of consequences, I can see them in my own family as a result of sometimes having inconsistent, capricious consequences for certain behaviors.

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