Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Discipline vs Punishment

Oooo-eee, I'm about to open a whole can of worms with this post.

Now that Cole's starting to get a wee bit older, we're starting to venture into that great unknown territory know as Discipline.

Few words in the English language attract more discussion than the word DISCIPLINE.  As a society, we're quick to pass judgements regarding the subject - "Oh, that child just needs someone to discipline him!" "Wow, not the way that I would discipline!" "Give her a spanking, THEN she'll know how to behave!"

My problem is with the word "discipline".  Too often I think our society mixes up "discipline" with meaning "punishment" - usually spanking or time-outs.  Discipline, in fact, has nothing to do with any sort of punishment.  It means to teach.  Kids are not born knowing how to behave appropriately, and they are not born with perfect impulse control.  Discipline is pro-active - it's giving warnings, it's explaining, it's helping your child know exact consequences for any misbehavior.

Punishment is done AFTER the fact - such as spanking. 

Which brings me to ...dum dum duuuuuummm...we are not planning on spanking our children.


And no, we are not going to be one of those families in Walmart with screaming children who are using Whiffle bats to hit their parents. Not choosing to spank DOES NOT mean not choosing to discipline and punish.

While there are many reasons we have for choosing not to spank, here are some of them:

1. Hitting is wrong.  Hitting is not how you deal with problems.  It is not ok to hit anyone, ever.  If Chris was upset with something I was doing, would it be acceptable for him to hit me? Of course not.  HOW does it make sense to spank someone, a child, to teach them?  It seems so counter-intuitive to me.  There are so many other options for discipline.  Most parents who do choose to spank (over 65% of parents spank) do so not necessarily because they LOVE spanking, but because they don't know what else to do.  They are at a loss as to how to discipline, so they resort to punishment.

2. It is not ok for hitting/spanking to be used as punishment in any setting other than at home.  If you are forced to hit your child to get them to "behave", how on earth are they expected to behave in places where spanking is not allowed? 

3. Every single parenting expert I have ever read denounces spanking, with the exception of two.  And those two parenting experts said spanking was ok to use sparingly, as long as it is performed calmly and without anger or frustration.  Have you EVER seen anyone spank who is NOT angry or frustrated?  It's impossible. 

4.  The majority of child abuse cases begin with a spanking.  Not that I would EVER abuse my child, but it's still something to think about.  An extreme situation of that is described here.

5. Flat out, spanking does not work.  It is not a long term solution, but a short term solution. More on that is chronicled here.

6.  "I was spanked as a child, and I turned out just fine!"  Truly, one of the most common arguments for spanking I hear.  Chris and I were both spanked (infrequently) as children, and I like to think we turned out pretty darn good!  In fact, I delayed writing this post because I didn't want our parents to feel critized for their choice in spanking us.  They absolutely did what they thought was best at the time.  However, my parents didn't wear seatbelts growing up - the research on seatbelt safety simply wasn't around back then.  Does that mean they didn't make us wear seatbelts, because they didn't and they turned out just fine?  Of course not.  Research for parenting is evolving and growing just like research for anything else - just because Chris and I as parents make different choices than the previous generation doesn't mean we don't love and appreciate how our parents raised us.

7.  Picture this.  Your child is one year old and just learning to walk.  He takes a couple steps, but falls down.  Would you spank your child for falling? No, of course not.  He's learning, it will take time to practice and figure out these new skills.  The same goes for behavior - kids are not born knowing how to behave appropriately.  It takes practice and learning to control emotions, channel overwhelming feelings in socially acceptable ways.  Spanking does not teach the child what to do instead.

Do I think that spanking Cole will automatically turn him into a violent, playground bully who thinks hitting is the only way to solve any problem? Of course not.  And I'm not going to pretend that the thought will never cross my mind, to give him a quick swat on the bottom.

But my goal as a parent is to do the very best I can for my child - and spanking may not be the VERY BEST choice for us. 

Tell me, what's your opinion about spanking?


  1. Great post, Mandy. We are anti spanking as well. I just read a an article about a study on spanking yesterday as matter of fact. To me, it just doesn't make sense. I want Madeline to learn to problem solve. If my response is to spank her instead of figuring out other ways to deal with my frustration, I'm not setting a good example. We'll obviously punish Madeline in other ways, but I don't think belitting her and making her feel powerless is the most affective way of doing so.

  2. I believe in spanking, but it's not our 'go to discipline' at all. Spankings are very infrequent here...like maybe once or twice a year max. We are learning ways to discipline and teach our babes with other methods. But, for us, we're always learning about ourselves as parents and about our children.

    Both Ty and I were spanked. I was spanked maybe, like my children, once or twice a year for doing something I downright knew was wrong, but I did it anyway. It was a consequence that I knew would happen, but I bucked the system and received my consequence. Ty came from a military family where spanking was more frequent, but he's also stronger willed than me. It's not that he didn't respect his parents, but he liked to test the waters, push the boundaries, and a spanking was his consequence for that. It was also a reminder for him that his parents were running things, not him.

    I have actually seen people spank who are not angry or frustrated. We do. There is a cool down period for both parties, an explanation, a swat, and then hugs and affirmation of love. This is not saying that it doesn't hurt us as parents, and I know people will instantly say, "Well, if it hurts you, why do it?" Well, it's a consequence. And consequences have to be served. Isaac is 4 years old, and he has had one true spanking in his life, and he totally understood why he received it. Phinneas is 17 months, and he has never had a spanking. And yeah, there will be those who say, "He's 4, he probably doesn't understand why he received it!" But at that point in time, I will just have to say that no one knows my child as well as me. I know his limits of comprehension.

    Everyone has different ways of parenting and different points of view, and that is what I love about the world. Discipline is an area where my husband and I are doing one thing specifically: being consistent. We have ground rules and a time-out wall. We're also exploring creative ways to do alternative disciplines--like when a fit happens, Isaac will sit at his desk and trace the alphabet until he has calmed down, or color a page in a book, or do something constructive to divert his attention and diffuse the situation. We're learning who we are as parents, and making our own way instead of copying our parent's forms of discipline. We both agree that we were raised right, but we want to try something different with our boys. Discipline isn't something that needs to be done out of anger or frustration, or should it be anything that belittles or injures a child. I think it's needed for children so they grow up with the knowledge of how to follow directions, and respect authority figures and themselves. The more that Ty and I learn about parenting, the more infrequent spankings will become in our household...so maybe once every year and a half/two years or so instead of once a year :)


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