Dawn and I believe in the disciplinary effectiveness of non-angry spanking. Our experience was that by disciplining our three children consistently and immediately–spanking when necessary–in their early years, they hardly ever needed spanking after age three.
So we were shocked the first time we heard that some parents punished their kids by forcing hot sauce into their mouths, or by forcing them into a cold shower.
I believe these methods make poor discipline for a child. Here’s why…
The Goal of Discipline
Discipline isn’t primarily about punishment; it’s about training. Nor is it primarily about good behavior; it’s about instilling good values. From a parent’s perspective, discipline isn’t primarily about avoiding stress or frustration or public embarrassment, either. Good behavior is just a byproduct good discipline, not the goal.
A parent’s first responsibility in parenting is to verbally teach, and model with their lifestyle, that which is intrinsically good to their children. To be a child is to lack self-discipline, self-control, patience, industry, truthfulness, and other-awareness. So, children must be taught the inherent rightness and goodness of values like:
- Other-awareness/compassion/thoughtfulness (“I am not the center of all things.”)
- Truthfulness (“It is not good to manipulate people to do and think what I want.”)
- Self-control (“Patience with life and others leads to long-term good in my life and relationships.”)
If instilling values like these is the goal, what methods are most effective in young children?
Three Ways To Fail
You’ve probably seen parents who coddle and spoil, and the occasional parents who intimidate and terrorize. And most commonly, you’ve seen exasperated parents who did their level best to pretend their ill-behaving pre-schoolers were silent and invisible, like the mom who once told me, “Sometimes it’s just easier to ignore them.” If you’re average like me, you can relate to all the alternating emotions that tempt you to parent in these ways.
But, all three approaches–to indulge, intimidate, or ignore–are a failure to properly train and teach. What do children learn from being indulged?–That their wish should be everyone’s command. From intimidation?–Fear and resentment. From being ignored?–that the only way to get the attention they crave is to act really, really badly.
Hot Sauce and Cold Showers
We believe hot sauce and cold showers, along with yelling, threatening, and hitting in anger are behaviorally-focused intimidation methods that only teach children fear. Children punished with these methods learn that they are conditionally accepted only if their behavior is good, and that might makes right.
Some parents may threaten these punishments as a way to elicit truth when they detect a lie. But, like a torture victim, a child will say anything out of fear of pain, and the real value of truth-telling is not learned.
Discipline, Restoration, and the Gospel
Intrinsically good values are taught primarily in repeated teaching conversations, not in the moment of punishment. If you are a parent of young children, make it a priority to talk with your children to build your ability to listen to them, to understand them, to communicate you care about them, and to be heard best by them.
When punishment is necessary, don’t aim for instilling fear. Don’t use methods that only allow you to vent your anger or prove you are in control. Use methods that aim to reinforce the inherently good values you teach. Punishment should be over quickly and be immediately followed by reassurance of unconditional, parental love.
If you are a Christian, this pattern may feel familiar to you. It’s the pattern of law and gospel. God gives us His good law first to teach what He expects of us. He then shows us how we have broken His good law. He corrects us again and again. But lastly, he promises forgiveness through His Son, the mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, and ultimately reconciles us to Himself through him.
Let that pattern be the model for your parental discipline.
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