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.