Discipline is compassionate correction. Such strategies include constructive incentives understandable to a child. These approaches at times include temporarily withdrawing positive attention, such as ignoring a child acting out or temporarily using a ’time out’. Discipline may involve parental assertion strategies that include withdrawal of privileges and behavioral rewards or judicious reprimands to achieve a desired response (imposing penalties for non-compliance such as suspension of privileges like participation in a desirable activity in lieu for a discussion about the wrongful action.)
Thoughtful, effective discipline is neither punishment nor aggression. It is not punitive, heavy-handed, or sadistic in reprimand. Healthy discipline is not mindless authoritarian control. Harsh scolding is unhelpful and may be traumatic to a child, particularly over time. Nagging, threatening, endless explanations, yelling, and harsh punishments are all ineffective. In fact, adult attention to misbehaviors, if done repetitively and without concurrent constructive learning interventions, powerfully reinforces “bad”, unhelpful and undesirable behaviors. Children crave attention from their caregivers and may learn to act out to receive even negative attention.
“Experts who study child neglect and maltreatment agree that corporal punishment is intergenerational, so adults who were subjected to this form of discipline come to believe that it is acceptable. They use corporal punishment to discipline their own children, which reflects the learning from modeling achieved by living example.”
“Many parents regard the “terrible twos” and “trying threes” as chronological eras wherein spanking is often used to control undesirable behaviors, typically aggressive such as biting a sibling, or grabbing a toy away from another child. This strategy is counterproductive since it backfires into even greater unruliness.”
Yet, parents find it difficult to restrain themselves from this approach. In documented studies, about 66 percent of parents of very young children ages one and two years reported using physical punishment. By the time children reach fifth grade, 80 percent have been physically punished. By high school, 85 percent of adolescents report that they have been physically punished, with 51 percent reporting they have been hit with a belt or similar object.
Although research findings show corporal punishment use across the socioeconomic spectrum, its frequency and intensity appear elevated among less educated and disadvantaged persons.
“Yelling is one form of aggression. Yelling when a child misbehaves frightens the child and elicits defensiveness. These feelings and attitudes are not conducive to redirection and learning more desirable behaviors. When parents model aggression, children learn to use it to deal with parents, siblings, peers, and others. Inordinate exposure to force and violence causes habituation, tolerance, and insensitivity to violence.”
“Habituation is an important form of learning in which a stimulus that is experienced too frequently ceases to produce the initial effect it first had elicited. Violence and aggression seen and felt too often cause a dulling of the emotions of horror, disdain, and repulsion. This tendency often extends into adulthood and perpetuates adolescent and adult aggression. Studies show that children who are spanked become more aggressive even by age two years. Most research shows that between 60 and 70 percent of child abuse begins as harsh spanking and progresses to even greater violence and maltreatment.”
“Remembering that impulse control has a developmental trajectory that differs in infancy and different eras in childhood and adolescence are essential.”
“In reading Sigmund Freud’s “A Child Is Being Beaten” the inter-relationship between parent and child and the sequence of the three developmental phases of the beating-phantasy become apparent in the childhood trajectory from 2 to 5 years of age. Freud postulated the child goes through 3 developmental phases from 2 to 5 years in which the witnessing of another child being beaten is incorporated into the psychic life of the child.”
Concrete Strategies to Support Pro-social Skills:
(1) Modeling, or setting an example through behavior;
(2) Cueing, or prompting children to use pro-social skills
(3) Coaching, or direct instructions about how to prepare and then use skills
(4) Positive Reinforcement, or recognizing and verbalizing children’s attempts and successes at using pro-social skills
(5) Non-judgmental Statements, or avoiding emphasizing negative statements about children and others;
(6) Role Playing, or creating a safe environment in which to learn and practice pro-social skills, and
(7) Direct Feedback, or asking children for their perspective and notably what could have been done better to improve the problematic situation.
“The parental mood accompanying such “learning moments” is most effective when it is sober, firm, and warm – not caustic, frightening, violent, or aggressive. Such a tone averts fear and unnecessary shame, allowing children to learn more effectively. Effective discipline avoids humiliation, embarrassment, and dehumanization. Using sensitivity and tact is always beneficial.”
“This approach prevents trauma – the feeling of being abused and tortured – to both child and parent. The child’s dignity and self-worth are thus preserved. Effective discipline includes a calm, firm, decisive tone of voice. Such a disciplinary style fosters increased motivation for cooperation and enhanced receptivity for improvement.”
“Validation of Feelings. This strategy is sometimes called a “validation of feelings.” Accepting the verbal expression of feelings and helping children to articulate the feelings behind behaviors are part of a corrective redirection showing warmth and tolerance. Identifying core feelings in words, then describing the behavioral action in terms such as “bad, which means unhelpful,” unsafe, risky, unkind, and so forth, and why they are unhelpful, allows everyone to pause and step back.”
“Corrective Redirection Embedded in Nurturance and Living Example. This positive approach to child guidance is an engaging inducement reflecting team effort rather than authoritarian control. Forceful imposition and harsh indoctrination are counterproductive, if not traumatic. Perpetually maintaining attitudes and operating principles whose underlying premise is teamwork works best.”
“Relationships and emotional processes support the growth of the mind. These influence how learning occurs and what is learned. Emotional intelligence is enhanced. The fruits that gradually mature in adolescence and adulthood include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Focusing on good behaviors optimizes success. Starting from day one is essential. Children and adolescents remain open to positive feedback at all points in their development.”