Re-Thinking Discipline

The dreaded "D" word has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks. What triggered my thoughts on this matter was a Facebook post from one of the groups I have joined. A frustrated parent wrote the post to see if there were any other fathers who had to discipline their children everyday after a long day at work instead of spending "happy time" with them. I responded by sharing my personal journey as a parent:

As a father, it really hurts when your kids say "I don't want Daddy. I want Mummy. " Been learning not to take things too personally as I've been realising that children learn from an early age how to push your buttons. I will just need to ask myself if I'm disciplining out of a desire to correct or because I'm angry. Also learning that I need to say sorry if I am doing things out of anger.

The other thing I have been learning is that children need consistency. So they know I will punish them when they do wrong. And they expect to be punished. I just need to remember to be fair to discipline both in the same way. Personally feel that an inconsistent father is worse than a strict father.
It's a long journey that we have with our children; and this holds true in the area of discipline as well.

Our parenting journey has been a roller-coaster ride; not least in the area of discipline. I recall writing an article on discipline two years ago when my older son was just about to turn 2. Looking back, I realise I had such naive views on discipline then. Back then, it seemed perfectly logical to impose a uniform code of discipline on my son i.e. "If you do wrong, these are the consequences. Are you ready to obey me? No? Very well, I have explained to you what are the consequences and I will have to punish you now."

There is nothing wrong in prescribing a code of discipline. In fact, I believe that as parents we need to spell out what consequences our children will face if they fail to obey us. This relates to the consistency of our actions. For if children know that we will consistently mete out the punishment each time they choose to do wrong, it is more likely that they will choose the right path instead. The surety of the punishment serves as a negative reinforcement to condition our children to instead pursue positive behaviour. 

What I do believe now, is that our discipline has to be "seasoned with mercy" (in the words of Portia in The Merchant of Venice"). I feel that when we discipline our children, we have to assess the circumstances in which our children did wrong. So if they did so as an outward act of defiance, I would not hesitate to enforce the prescribed punishment severely. However, if my boys did wrong because they were over-tired or over-simulated, or even out of control, I would then moderate the severity of the punishment, or even choose not to punish them at all. I would still require them to acknowledge their mistakes, but then choose to extend grace to them.
Doing "silly" things with our children allows us to build up our relationship with them.
 So when the time comes to discipline them, they will know that you will still be there for them -
in both the good and the bad times.

One other area we have been grappling with is the concept of physical punishment. In today's society is seems unthinkable to lay your hand on your child. Schools today frown on any notion of corporal punishment, quite unlike a time thirty years ago when public caning in schools were the norm and teachers did not bat an eyelid if they decided to fling your unfinished workbook out of the window. Yet there are others who adhere strictly to the principle of "Spare the rod and spoil the child" (which interestingly enough is not found in the Bible contrary to popular perception). Proponents of such an approach believe that if parents choose to "go soft" on their children, that the little ones will suffer from the result of ill-discipline. 

We had the privilege of attending a parenting course in church entitled "Growing Kids God's Way" by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo. The Ezzos share on a whole host of topics, but their approach towards discipline leans towards the idea that physical punishment is accepted as long as you do not use your hands, which are intended to love your children. While I agree in principle to the Ezzos' approach, in the end there are so many different perspectives towards the conduct of discipline. What then is the best approach? I believe each parent should take the time to find out more about each perspective, but in the end choose an approach that he or she is comfortable with.

Regardless of the nature of the disciplining, my wise wife Sue has adopted two principles towards discipline which she learnt from a fellow parent in one of our Facebook groups. They are, "Respond not React", and "Connect before you Correct". 

I believe it is important to "connect" with your children in the numerous day-to-day activities.
It is easy to "react" to your child when he or she is misbehaving. Oftentimes we react to something that the child has done - like for instance breaking one of the items that we treasure (which has happened to us), and scold the child out of anger. It is more difficult to "respond" to the child - to stop and reflect on how best to help him or her learn from the incident; It is more in relation to tutoring the child's heart rather than simply being concerned about the consequences of the matter.

The principle of "connecting" with your child addresses the question asked by the irate parent in my Facebook group. I have always been the stricter parent at home, and there have been many occasions when my children have chosen to run to their Mummy instead of to me when something goes wrong. I have since learnt that as important as discipline is, the relationship between the parent and child is even more important. Children are understandably upset if they are punished by someone they have no connection with. On the contrary, when a child has a close relationship with his or her parents, the notion of being disciplined or "corrected" becomes more acceptable. It is therefore important to connect emotionally with the child, to acknowledge the emotions associated with the behaviour, before enforcing the corrective action.

So what is the conclusion of the matter? Well, let's wait another few years as I continue to travel on the "D" train. I believe it's a journey that we have to embark on; and we have to stay on board all the way!

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