Discipline: Beyond the Spanking Debate

Discipline. Pronunciation:/ˈdɪsɪplɪn/noun
1. The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.
-Oxford English Dictionary

If we look at the dictionary definition of discipline, punishment is used to enforce rules or conduct. However, the field of psychology agrees that punishment is not the only way to accomplish discipline. Behaviorists distinguish between reinforcement and punishment in influencing behavior. Think of them as polar opposites. Reinforcement is anything that attempts to increase a behavior. It can be administered (positive reinforcement, e.g. giving a child a hug and praise after they clean their room increases their likelihood of cleaning their room in the future). It can also be removed (negative reinforcement, e.g. a child cleans their room to make their parent stop nagging). Similarly, punishment can be administered or removed, however the goal is decreasing a behavior. Positive punishment (administered) includes spanking. Negative punishment (removed) includes restricting privileges.

What does all this psychobabble mean for caregivers? Research has supported a combined approach of reinforcement and punishment to discipline. Reinforcing desired behavior is very effective in ensuring you see more of it in the future. It has been shown that positive punishment, such as spanking, when used as a primary means of discipline does not teach what the appropriate behavior should be and is only temporarily effective. The ultimate goal in discipline, as we see in the definition above, is training to obey. How can a child obey if they aren’t aware of what that means?

Many people who choose to spank report that they were spanked and “turned out fine.” When I think this over, I can remember my spankings vividly; the accompanying pain, shame and conflicted feelings toward my caregivers. Beyond spanking, and whether it should be done or not, there are other ways to discipline a child.

Parents should agree on the methods they will use to discipline their children. The main reason for this is that discipline should be consistent to be effective. Caregivers should inform children of the rules and the subsequent consequences to broken rules. This way, children know what to expect. Children should be expected to perform within their age and developmental expectancy. I once saw a woman slap a toddler for dropping a bib on the sidewalk. A toddler doesn’t have the motor capacity to hold a bib for an extended period of time. Relatedly, consequences should be appropriate to the child’s developmental level. Be firm, respectful and specific in your demands and reprimands.

Discipline is more than merely punishing improper behaviors – it’s teaching proper ones. -American Association of Pediatrics

When considering methods to discipline children, caregivers should assess the likelihood of the ultimate lesson being learnt, as well as the effectiveness in changing the child’s behavior. Specific methods of discipline can be found when you Read More below.

Read More: What is the best way to discipline my child?
General Rules for Disciplining Teens
Classroom Management: Teacher’s Module

Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net



About Traci S. Williams-Nurse

Dr. Traci Williams-Nurse is a licensed psychologist who specialized in child, adolescent and family psychology. Her interests include child development, family functioning, video games and food. She was born and raised in Trinidad & Tobago and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
This entry was posted in Parenting, Punishment and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Discipline: Beyond the Spanking Debate

  1. morbidpixie4 says:

    “Children should be expected to perform within their age and developmental expectancy.” (Traci) I agree with you 100%! And it’s funny that you set up the table in your blog because my parents, or my mom I should say, still uses the “Time Out” method on me. I’m on my way to college for goodness sake! My parents never spanked me and I’ve only been threatened once, I think. But spanking a toddler for dropping a bib? What kind of mother does she think she is? The best way to disipline a toddler would probably one of the three; one, to put into time out. Two, serious speech and eye contact, followed by a warning. Or three, spanking. Although, spanking does depend on how old the toddler is. He/she shouldn’t be spanked if their only three. For me that’s a little too young.

    I was discussing ways of disciplining kids with my boyfriend and he said that our children would be given a firm and serious warning first. Then he said that if they didn’t follow up on that warning, they would be spanked or sent to their room. I for one do NOT believe in taking off my belt or even having my partner use their belt against my child. If anyone is going to do that, I’d be that mother bear and run right infront of that leather to cover them up. If it hits me, it hits me. It’s just wrong to use that kind of material against a child. This isn’t 1910 anymore. Plus disipline also depends on the child. Some kids don’t take punishment seriously and they keep doing what they’re doing.

  2. Traci says:

    Lovely comment. On your last point, that’s so apt. Discipline has to be appropriate to the child. If it doesn’t work to change the behavior, it isn’t appropriate. Thanks for reading!

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