Have you ever been caught off-guard as a parent? Have you found out something your child did or said that you didn’t approve of, or perhaps caught him/her being dishonest? Have you ever been so mad that you’ve doled out a consequence that was totally inappropriate, based on your frustration and anger in the heat of the moment? Our children can definitely make some incredibly bad decisions and behave outrageously, pushing our buttons as they learn to navigate through life. As parents, it is our job to help them learn from their mistakes and find a better, higher road to take under many varying circumstances. Yet their disobedience or lack of good decision-making can rear it’s ugly head at very inopportune times and we can find ourselves at a loss of how to handle certain situations.
Wouldn’t you agree that our main focus as parents should be the teaching of character traits that will serve them all through life? So often, we get caught up in the idea that excellence in academics or sports or numerous after-school activities is where we should be placing our time and energy in this child-rearing experience. We get so wrapped up in the grades they aren’t getting, the accolades they aren’t receiving or the practices they have to miss! However, think about it…
How many of our children actually become professional athletes, NASA rocket scientists, or CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies? If we can envision what we hope they will be when they are adults, will we wish them to be well-off financially (no matter what the cost?) or will we pray that they are well-balanced with empathy, compassion, integrity, responsibility and honesty to name just a few wonderful character traits? Do we hope to see them striving for fame and fortune with very little sense of contentment and peace, or do we want to know they are happy and healthy contributors to society, persevering in an amazing and sometimes sacrificial way that gives them a heartwarming sense of accomplishment and purpose? Aren’t character traits what employers look for ~ like integrity, honesty, work-ethic, responsibility, perseverance, etc.?
So, if the goal for us as parents is to teach character qualities that will serve them throughout their lives, we must take our time to discipline them in such a way, when they are young, that they are guided to doing what is right and good because that is what they should be doing. It should not be to please us or know what’s in it for them. We want them to come to a point of making decisions they know are right and good, because we will not always be there ~ not only to help them along the path and nudge them in the best direction but also, in many ways, to be their conscience. They must learn the character traits that will enable them to make those good life choices without our input, as we will eventually drop out of the picture.
It is critical that we don’t always jump to the punishment for the sake of punishment ~ and certainly not in the heat of the moment! There is rarely a situation that calls for immediate, harsh consequence without thought, unless of course the safety of our child is at stake. Grabbing our child and yanking him back from crossing the street and getting hit by a car ~ is most certainly justified. However, in many scenarios, it behooves us as moms and dads to take a step back ourselves from the situation at hand, in order to think clearly and decide carefully what we deem to be the appropriate course of action ~ especially when it comes to discipline. Note here that although we step back, we should continue to express love for the child. However, we can make it clear that we did not like their bad behavior.
It is known that after the age of three, children understand and can remember when they have done something wrong. They have a good sense of right and wrong and will have no problem being reminded of misbehavior even hours later (or in the case of teenagers~ days later). That is a good thing that can be used to parent well. This “delay of consequence” strategy (a term credited to John Rosemond, family psy-chologist) is for everyone’s benefit. Taking a deep breath, expressing our displeasure and as-suring them that we will let them know what the consequences will be (for their disobedience, dishonesty, break of curfew, mistreatment of a sibling~ whatever the case may be) will give us time to think clearly and settle down emotionally. It will also give our child an opportunity to not only think about what (s)he did wrong but what our discipline will entail. It is never a bad idea to let the time go by for everyone to contemplate the issues at hand!
However, during that hiatus between misbehavior and consequence, it will be in everyone’s best interest to carry on as usual, keeping things light and loving. Even though we have let the child/teen know we don’t approve of the misbehavior, we must express that we still love them.
The fact that we can then very calmly explain the consequence ~ minutes, hours or even days later ~ keeps your child on his toes and will make him think twice about committing that infraction again any time soon! A lost opportunity for a get-together with friends, diminished time on his favorite device, or an extra-early bedtime this week for younger children can be the consequence after you’ve pointed out what he did (was unkind to a sibling, for example). Loss of car, cell phone or computer/TV-use or denial of social privileges for a while ~ all pack a punch for teens when delivered in a timely manner with an explanation that disrespect will not be tolerated. However, the consequence should be delivered with an explanation of the character trait (kindness, respectfulness) that was missing in the behavior. Finally, request/require a promise and plan to work on strengthening that desirable trait in the near future. Without that promise and plan in place, the consequence has lost its purpose and its punch.
If our goal is to teach them as we discipline, then it is important to identify what character trait is lacking that led to their misbehavior? To launch from that point, with discipline focused on learning, takes patience and determination, but it can make all the difference in the world. So often, the phrase “I need to teach my kid a lesson” is followed by anything but a positive learning situation! And unfortunately, if it happens enough, it will lead to poor attitude and rebellion. On the other hand, disciplining without the anger and with a plan gives both parent and child a way to make something good out of a bad situation and the positive outcome (even with consequences in place) will more likely result in better decision making in the future.
In The Christian Parenting Handbook Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller (RN, BSN) give what they call 50 “Heart-Based Strategies” for all the stages of our children’s lives. In chapter 23 ~”The Difference Between Punishment and Discipline”, the authors say this: “There’s a significant difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment gives an unwanted consequence (a spanking, a time out, privileges held back?), but discipline means ‘to teach.’ (What can they learn from this situation?) Punishment is negative; discipline is positive. Punishment focuses on past misdeeds (you mouthed off, were disobedient, cheated, were disrespectful). Discipline focuses on future good deeds (We need to see more responsibility, respect, kindness, adherence to house rules). Punishment is often motivated by anger (You pushed my buttons once too often!). Discipline is motivated by love (How can this help my child avoid similar situations in the future?) Punishment focuses on justice to balance the scales (They’ll get what they deserve!) Discipline focuses on teaching, to prepare for next time. (How will you handle your negative emotions in the future when you are disappointed or frustrated?)”~ [Thoughts in parentheses are mine!] I love that! Discipline comes from the same root as the word disciple. We disciple our children by modeling for them what it’s like to do life well. We do this by talking, instructing, modeling, practicing and correcting. Moreover, it can all be done in a positive way!
Punishing takes a negative approach whereas disciplining should be a positive, encouraging one. With children of all ages, it helps to acknowledge their frustration and anger, even as we try to help develop new patterns of behavior. If done correctly, disciplining can lead to growth in all their relationships, including their relationship with their parents as they mature. Our words can be tools for a true change of heart and development of character if they are used strategically. Furthermore, how we correct and our tone of voice will make a difference between how much our children resist our correction and how they respond. If we are harsh and discouraging, we are not modeling the way our children should live. Believe me, they learn from everything we say and do, because they are watching, whether we think so or not! A negative approach on our part will come back to bite us!
However, we mustn’t get discouraged. Training our children to express those desirable character traits in their lives will take a great deal of energy and diligence. It will also take effort on our part to hone those traits as well. Some character de-ficiencies take more time to overcome than others. Nevertheless, helping our children develop these traits will be worth it in the long run. And while we’re at it…if we can work on them in our-selves, it is a win-win situation!
Realize that each child is different: How we train our child depends on the child ~ sometimes all they may need us to do is:
• request eye contact
• use gentle but firm words
• give them some extra time without saying anything…to apply just the right amount of pressure for good decision making and responses
• use personal touch ~ gently turning their face to ours
• touch them on the shoulder to help them focus on what we are saying
• call them close to really listen to what we are telling them
• whisper or just speak more softly to get a message across more effectively with more intensity.
All these things can build relationship because they help our child feel valued when we attempt to truly communicate with them without anger. These tips also give the message that we mean business without giving in to yelling, which is really the sign of desperation. We can be firm but in an honoring, calm way! And yes, sometimes punishment is necessary ~ but it should be our last resort once we have tried these other strategies. Be aware that there are times when we must exert authority in our homes with our children, especially in the t(w)een years as they are spreading their wings . We are the parents, after all! However, we may be surprised to find our firm parenting approach works even before consequences become necessary!
At the other end of the spec-trum, our teenagers are at an age where they can hear and understand: This cannot continue. It isn’t healthy for any of us. We need to make serious changes. “Think of this approach as pres-sure which leads to a plan, and growth (character development) which leads to hope and a posi-tive view of the future as a result.” (The Christian Parenting Handbook) Turansky and Miller point to the fact that “firmness starts moving kids in a positive direction” and as parents, we can help them realize that good things take time, hard work and perseverance ~ and are worth the effort.
When discipline seems to be on the rise, we must make sure that the times of positive fun and togetherness increase as well for balance and a sense of relational well-being. It is important that our children always feel our unconditional love. We should always give them the unmistakable message that we love them, even if we don’t like their behavior. It is not because they behave a certain way, can do certain things, or obey us when we ask them to, etc. that we love them. We love them because they are our children ~ and we must love them even more when they are the most unlovable!
Ann Van De Water is a Certified Parenting Coach and an traditionally published author of a book on motherhood, MOMMY MEMOIRS~ A Hilarious and Heartwarming Look at the Trials and Triumphs of Being a Mom, Morgan James, 2014 as well as author of chapters in three other books (two of which are also about motherhood). She is also training to be a presenter for the National Center for Biblical Parenting. She and her husband, Wes ~ have taught both parenting and marriage courses for many years in their home church in WNY.Back to blog list