Editor’s Note: this article about the discipline debate is eye opening. What do you think?
Depends on your definition. Or is it your age or culture?
As reported in the Washington Post Magazine earlier this year, a growing number of child advocates in the US. are working towards an end to corporal punishment. A total legal ban on spanking in all settings has been passed by 33 nations (soon to be 34) in Europe, Latin America and Africa. But while the number of parents who spank on occasion has declined a bit in recent years, the article continues, the ‘acceptability level’ hovers between 65% and 75%. So, what is discipline?
Discipline in my childhood home in the 1950’s and 1960’s was negative – not abusive – and authoritarian in approach. Echoes of “because I said so” remind me of the basic tenet of their parenting style. For many families, including mine, the culture of the 50’s saw a father figure as the breadwinner and disciplinarian.
As a parent in the ‘70’s, I relied on Drs. Spock and Braselton for most parenting advice on health and discipline. Yes, I spanked. I was spanked as a child. At the time, all of my friends who were parents spanked. But we also sent children to their room. It was such a routine in my household that my then four-year old son one day admonished me, “Mommy, if you do that again, I’m going to my room.” True story.
Looking back, I’m not sure how much of a line there was between using discipline as a punishment to correct disobedience or to deter unwanted behavior.
For me, it’s defined in one word: teaching. Many in my generation place importance not only on stopping the unwanted behavior; we focus on teaching what to do instead. And that’s the distinction between discipline and punishment…teaching appropriate behavior.
Research about child development has advanced understanding that ‘healthy children’ means physically, mentally, socially and emotionally. Parents today have great resources for sharing ideas for discipline techniques through internet access and social media. So much has been discovered about child development since our parents had young children; knowing what can be expected of children at different ages is a big part of choosing when and how to discipline.
There are parents today who were spanked as children. But more and more, these same parents are turning away from that type of punishment. The trend seems to be to talk to your children about what they did and why and what to do instead. That can have its pros and cons: Children are not necessarily able to reason like adults. (They’re still children!).
My definition of discipline has evolved just as being a grandparent has. Discipline really takes work to be effective. As a grandparent, I don’t have the patience or energy to really work on effective discipline as I see many parents doing. I’m not with my grandchildren for days at a time, so I’m don’t have to put as much into the process as their parents.
I like what the ubiquitous Dr. Phil says about discipline:
The purpose of discipline is to keep your children healthy and thriving. He adds that discipline, rewards, lifestyle, focus, morals, values — these are all the things that ultimately define who a child becomes.
I’m getting wiser with each new year of grandparenting. (Not that it’s any easier.) I now view discipline as part of the process of helping develop a child’s character and less focused on using it as punishment. Quite a transition from my days of parenting!
I think many parents of my generation don’t want discipline to be a spur of the moment reaction. This generation is very willing to learn from our mistakes and try different methods of discipline.
Discipline, when defined as teaching and not just punishment, DOES take more time, energy and patience. Maybe the growing number of stay-home parents (or part-time working parents) has something to do with the change in this generation’s parenting. It is definitely easier to take the time, when you do not have a full-time paid job in addition to the job of ‘Parent’!
One last thought…
The question may not be about your definition of discipline. It might just be:
“As grandparents, are we less inclined to use severe discipline with our grands?”
To read the entire Washington Post Magazine article, click here.
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