Written by Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC, Author
Last week I shared about the “joy” and “love” of Jesus Christ. In that article I wrote about how discipline is a component of love. In particular, I pointed out how parents need to discipline their children. With all the school violence and other issues in the news the past several months pertaining to children, I would feel amiss to not discuss the issue of child discipline further.
It was established in last week’s blog “The “Joy” and “Love” of Jesus Christ” that disciplining children is biblical. In this article I’ll discuss what does it means to discipline children and what healthy discipline does and does not look like.
What is discipline? Dictionary.com defines discipline, as a noun as “training to act in accordance with rules”; as a verb, as “to bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control”. Ingram (2006) reported
Far from being a dirty word, discipline is evidence of love. When you consistently discipline your child and do it with the right attitude — compassionately, under control, with consistent boundaries and consequences, and focused on the child’s best outcome — you are expressing love exactly as God sometimes expresses His love. It may seem uncomfortable both to you and your child at the time, but in the long run, it’s the most selfless, compassionate thing you can do to set your child up for happiness in life and fruitfulness in God’s Kingdom. (¶ 6)
Before moving forward to discuss how parents and guardians should discipline children, I want to point out that before parents can teach discipline, they must model a disciplined life to their children.
Proverbs 25:28 (NKJV): “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit Is like a city broken down, without walls.”
I Corinthians 9:27 (NKJV): “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
The personalities and dispositions of both parents and children work together (or don’t work together) to determine the amount of harmony that exists in a family and what type of citizen any individual child will grow up to become. While on the subject of parents, let’s look at the four parenting styles, and their pros and cons:
- Permissive Parents—Pro: Parents express love; Con: No boundaries; Outcome in Child: Child feels loved but insecure.
- Neglectful Parents—Pros: None; Cons: No discipline, Little love expressed; Outcome in Child: Deep emotional scars
- Authoritarian Parents—Pros: None; Cons: Over correct children, Poor expression of love; Outcome in Child: Rebellious
- Authoritative Parents—Pros: Very loving, Clear healthy boundaries; Cons: None; Outcome in Child: Well-adjusted.
From the descriptions of the different parenting styles, one can easily see that to rear the most well-adjusted children, parents should have the goal of being an authoritative parent always in mind. Now that we have discussed parenting styles, let’s look at the various temperaments of children.
Have you ever noticed how two children from the same family can be drastically different? One child might be a happy, easy-going child who is eager to please while the other one might be cranky, defiant, and attention-seeking.
Clearly, behavior differences don’t always stem from the environment. Each child is born with a unique temperament. And it’s important to tailor your discipline strategies to your child’s individual needs. (Morin, 2018, pp. 1-2)
What makes up temperament? Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess (Thomas et al., 1970) first identified nine temperament traits, along with three basic types of temperament (Weiss, 2016). The nine temperament traits are:
- Sensory Threshold: the level of stimulation needed to evoke a response in the child.
- Activity Level: general motor activity level during wakefulness and sleep.
- Intensity: how expressive a child is, whether acting out of happiness, anger, sadness, or other emotions.
- Rhythmicity: how predictable bodily functions are (appetite, elimination, sleeping cycles, etc.).
- Adaptability: how easily a child adjusts to change/transition.
- Mood: describes the child’s basic disposition (happy, serious, etc).
- Approach/Withdrawal: how a child reacts to new places or situations.
- Persistence: how well the child handles obstacles.
- Distractibility: how easily a child can be distracted or can concentrate (Child Development Media, n.d., How is Temperament Defined and Identified? section, ¶ 2).
When Thomas et al. (1970) scrutinized the behavioral traits of the study participants in an effort to find associations among the nine traits identified. They found that certain traits clustered together into three basic types of temperament, including “easy” children, “difficult” children, and the “slow to warm up” children. Additionally, some children were found to be a mixture of the three types.
According to McKean (2018), “More recent researchers use different labels to categorise temperament” (What is Temperament? section, ¶ 3). Among these models are the following:
Regardless of which model one chooses to use, I encourage parents to identify the temperament of each of their individual children.
Taking a look at a child’s temperament gives us the chance to see the child for the individual that he is and to respect his particular innate personality traits. Once we begin to define and understand these concepts, we can establish an environment that works in conjunction with the child’s nature and allow the child to grow and develop in a meaningful way (Child Development Media, n.d., Understanding Temperament Supports Development section, ¶ 1).
What are the different types of discipline? The types of discipline I am familiar with include:
- Positive Reinforcement, such as Praise (e.g.: A parent praises a child for doing his or her homework.)
- Negative Reinforcement (e.g.: To avoid staying after school, a child behaves in class.)
- Extinction/Ignoring—”the disappearance of a previously learned behavior when the behavior is not reinforced” (Roundy, 2018, ¶ 1). Roundy shares the following example of extinction:
Imagine you work as a clerk at a local grocery store. A mother and her young son come in the store regularly. The child always screams when he is checking out, until the mother agrees to buy the child some candy. For a long time, you witness the mother buying candy during checkout so the child will stop screaming. Then, one day, you notice the mother refuses to buy the child candy. The child became increasingly upset when denied candy; however, a few weeks later, you see the mother and child at the store, and the child does not scream for candy (Definition of Extinction section, ¶ 1).
- Positive Punishment (e.g.: At home, a parent gives a time out for lying. At school, a teacher gives a student extra homework for misbehaving in class.)
- Negative Punishment (e.g.: taking away privileges; parents ground a child for talking back)
- Reward Systems, such as a Token Economy System
- Biblical spanking
In general, reinforcement is preferred over punishment. What’s the difference one might ask. The difference is that reinforcement precedes a behavior while punishment always happens after a misbehavior. Take, for instance, the examples of positive reinforcement and positive punishment given above. When a parent praises a child for doing his or her homework, that child is more likely to continue doing the homework knowing he or she will be praised. Positive punishment, such as where a parent gives a time out for lying, is given after a child is caught in a lie. The child is more likely not to lie in the future to avoid another time out.
What about reward systems? I remember my parents at one point in elementary school used a reward system with me. I would receive a dollar for every “A” that I made on my report card. Although, I would not recommend this reward system in families where there are more than one child. Why? Because different children have different IQ’s, which could give an unfair edge of one child over another. Suppose a child with a lower IQ is working hard and doing the best he or she can do, but only makes a “C” in a subject. That child too should be praised for doing the best he or she can do.
Token Economy Systems, I believe, work best in working with larger groups of children. In this type of system, in the classroom, for example, a teacher may use stars, smiley faces, or whatever as tokens. When a child does something exceptionally good, a token may be put by the child’s name on a blackboard. Tokens also can be removed when a child misbehaves. At the end of a designated period, the child may use his or her tokens to buy something he or she wants.
I listed spanking on my list last because I believe spanking should always be used only as a last resort, when other forms of discipline do not work. In the book Effective Parenting in a Defective World (Tyndale, 2007), Ingram (2006b) in answering the question whether children should be spanked identified 7 steps to biblical spanking. These are:
- Give an initial warning—Always give a verbal warning first. Children should never be caught off guard by behaviors administered by parents or teachers.
- Make sure the child takes responsibility for his or her misbehavior.
- NEVER embarrass a child in front of others.
- “Communicate grief”—Parents should communicate that , rather than being mad at a child, they are more disappointed and heartbroken in the child’s misbehavior.
- “Flick” your wrist”—Remember the purpose of a spanking is “to sting, to provide a painful deterrent to misbehavior, not to injure”.
- “Sincere repentance”—I remember when I was small and Dad would spank me. After Dad spanked me, he would always tell me that he loved me, and that he was hurt over having to spank me. I was more upset seeing how upset Dad was than by the spanking (Daddy’s girl reaction); so, when he asked me if I was going to do the behavior again, I would tell him, “No,” and being genuinely repentant, I meant what I said.
- “Unconditional love”—children should know that they are loved unconditionally, regardless of their behavior. (Ingram, 2006a)
In addition to Ingram’s suggestions, I would like to share two precautions I share with parents regarding discipline. These are:
- NEVER punish a child for something he or she did not know was wrong.
- NEVER spank a child when you are angry. Spanking a child when mad increases the chances of the spanking turning into a beating that injures the child.
What discipline method works best? The answer to that question varies with each individual child. Morin (2018) stresses the importance of tailoring disciplinary methods used with any particular child to that particular child’s personality and temperament. For examples, she pointed out
praise may be very effective with a child who is slow to warm as it may motivate him to try new activities. A child who is slow to warm may also respond well to a reward system that provides further motivation and encouragement.
An active or difficult child may respond best to ignoring, time out, or loss of a privilege. A token economy system may also be a good discipline tool to encourage good behaviors while maintaining a difficult child’s attention.
Easy or flexible kids may do well with a variety of discipline strategies (Finding a Good Fit with Discipline section, ¶’s 1-3).
Sometimes finding what disciplinary method will work best with any one child is a matter of trial and error. I know as I grew older, to avoid spankings all Dad had to do was give me that look to get me to behave. However, I have known some children that all they would listen to is the paddle or the belt. The most important thing to remember is that children be disciplined, and that the discipline be fair and not hurt them physically. That’s what parents who genuinely love their children do.
Child Development Media (n.d.). The importance of temperament in infants and children. Retrieved May 6, 2018 from http://www.childdevelopmentmedia.com/articles/the-importance-of-temperament-in-infants-and-children/
Hogg, T. (2001, 2005). Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby. New York City, NY: Ballantine. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Baby-Whisperer-Connect-Communicate/dp/0345479092
Ingram, C. (2006a). 7 steps to biblical spanking. PDF retrieved March 6, 2018 from http://media.focusonthefamily.com/fotf/pdf/channels/parenting/7-steps-to-biblical-spanking.pdf
Ingram, C. (2006b). What the Bible says about discipline. Retrieved March 6, 2018 from https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/effective-biblical-discipline/effective-child-discipline/what-the-bible-says-about-discipline
Ingram, C. (2007). Effective Parenting in a Defective World. Focus on the Family series. Chicago: Tyndale. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Effective-Parenting-Defective-World-Family/dp/141430384X
McKean, K. (2018). Temperament & discipline. Retrieved March 6, 2018 from https://www.parentspartner.com/temperament-discipline/
Morin, A. (2018, January 28). How to tailor discipline to your child’s temperament. Retrieved March 6, 2018 from https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-to-tailor-discipline-to-your-childs-temperament-1094786