By LifeSkillz expert Melody Johnson
Good behavior is a learning process for children, and we are their roadmap. Children usually behave per their own emotions and impulses. At the same time, being a parent is also a learning process and sometimes we rely on our own emotions and impulses to teach. Usually, that means we divert directly to punishments when a child misbehaves, missing a crucial opportunity to teach them. With that said, I am going to break down how to teach good behavior through discipline vs. punishment.
Let’s compare the two words and what they really mean:
- Punishment – means to inflict pain or suffering as a penalty.
- Discipline – means to teach.
It’s understandable that we as parents can get very frustrated when a child misbehaves, specifically when they make the same poor behavior choices over and over. At the same time, if we have clear goals to teach good behavior skills, then we can respond better. The better we respond, the better the results.
What are our goals for our children when they misbehave?
- Our first goal is to get them to cooperate. This is primarily short-term.
- The second goal that we don’t always consider is more long-term, and that is to make better choices without the threat of punishment or consequences.
- To accomplish this, we need to consider both as often as possible. To accomplish this requires that you are patient, present, and intentional.
Now, let’s look at how punishment and discipline compare when accomplishing our goal of developing good behavior skills…
Punishment vs. Discipline:
- Punishment may shut down a behavior, but if you teach your child, then they will develop self-discipline skills such as managing emotions and impulses.
- When you discipline, you maintain a high relationship of trust and self-confidence.
- When you punish, you build a proverbial wall and decrease one’s trust self-confidence.
With that said, it makes sense to have a strategy for disciplining a child when they misbehave…
3-steps of discipline:
- CONNECT – this doesn’t mean to be permissible or passive, but to ensure that as you begin to set clear expectations, your child calms down emotionally and feels your loving/ caring approach. When a child is upset, they are less likely to hear what you are saying. You must be patient so that you remain as calm as possible during the process, which is the hardest but most stress-free way to discipline.
- RE-DIRECT – list out what the poor behavior choice was as well as what the proper behavior choice is, see my podcast Episode 12: ‘Making Choices’ for more information. This requires you to be present so that you can clearly calculate the desired outcome.
- REPAIR – discuss necessary steps on how to solve the current behavior problem, review better choices, and set ground rules should the poor behavior choices continue. This requires you to be intentional in your actions so that your long-term goals start to take shape.
Of course, this strategy won’t work all the time, so it’s also important to have a backup strategy. For starters, it’s better to say ‘consequences’ instead of ‘punishments’ so that your intentions are more goal-oriented versus pain-oriented.
When are consequences ok?
- Only after you’ve you have worked through the 3 steps of discipline and still, your child intentionally disobeys the ground rules.
What type of consequences is ok?
- One that matches the behavior. For example: if the child throws her iPad in an impulsive rage, then taking away her iPad for 48 hours is a considered a reasonable consequence. (A week is a long period and could potentially trigger more anger and rage. The goal is to teach her, but also empower her to self-correct her behavior in the future. The smaller time frame will teach her that throwing things is not acceptable, but at the same time, you trust that she will re-correct this behavior within the next few days.)
What type of consequence are not ok?
- One that is retroactive. For example: taking away good things isn’t the best consequence, such as karate lessons, which positively reinforces self-discipline. Although parents may think this is a good move because it’s an activity they like a lot and the pain of losing karate will teach them a valuable lesson, it’s doing the opposite. Pain infliction based on taking away something they like may cause more misbehavior and instill long-term damage in their trust for you. Also, strongly consider the fact that they lose all the positive benefits karate reinforces such as discipline, confidence, fitness, positive social interaction, and more.
- One that decreases morale. For example: taking away a student’s belt will shame the child, which decreases self-esteem. Public humiliation will leave a permanent footprint in the child’s brain, specifically a negative one. For every negative footprint left, self-esteem and morale decrease. The more children lack self-confidence and moral, the lesser chance you have of them believing in themselves to make proper behavior choices.
So, what do you do if you have a child that is misbehaving all the time with bits of rage, back-talking, and defying the rules?
- You map out a productive strategy that includes a method for building proper behavior habits along with pre-determined consequences. For example: if you hit someone, then you must write a letter to the person you hit (or if you are younger, you must apologize face to face with a specific pre-framed apology).
- If you throw a something, then you lose a personal item for 48 hours.
- If you show poor manners, then you must re-enact the proper manner if you are younger, or write a letter about having better manners. All of this should be pre-framed.
- If you wake up late for school because you stayed up late the night before, then you must go to bed an hour earlier for the next two days.
- At the same time, if you want consequences to work then you also need rewards. Reward your child when she goes a week without misbehaving. (This time frame may be shorter or longer depending on the child.) Also, the best rewards are not material things, but more relationship-building rewards. For example: she can pick to go to a family movie, or a special place for a family dinner.
- My suggestion is to make a list of rewards and consequences so that you are prepared.
Now, what if you’ve tried this strategy and it doesn’t work?
- For starters, be sure to give it time. If you are struggling with your child, then you must be reasonable on how long it will take to develop better behavior choices. It won’t happen overnight, and at the same time, she may get better and then fall off track again.
- However, if you’ve tried these strategies for a solid month with no success, then the next step is to bring in an expert. Chances are there are some neurological deficiencies there that are interfering with her development.
Bottom line, the three biggest takeaways from this are:
- Discipline is the better, more positively-productive method for instilling long-term behavior skills.
- Connect, re-direct, and repair is the 3-step method for developing self-discipline skills.
- When necessary, consequences are more productive than punishments. Avoid consequences that are retroactive or ones that decrease morale. Be sure to add rewards as well.
I hope this article sheds some positive light on how to help your child make better behavior choices!