Each week this month, I am highlighting parenting issues and discussing what I am doing the same and different as I parent my girls. I started the series last week with how I am making decisions about where to send the girls for school. If you missed it, you can read it here. This week I am diving right into discipline and getting into a topic that can be pretty controversial.
There are some strong opinions about right and wrong ways of disciplining children. What is the goal of discipline? It is to shape, mold, or change a child’s behavior. All discipline should be done with that in mind. There are countless ways to achieve that result, and we have tried many. I could write so much about this, and indeed hundreds of people have written entire books on the topic of disciplining children. However, for the purpose of today’s post I only intend to focus on one thing that I will continue and one thing that I will change in disciplining my girls.
Positive Discipline That Works
“No! I’m not doing that! I don’t have to and you can’t make me!” He was right. I can’t physically make a child brush his own teeth, take a bath, or go to the bathroom before bed. This was the scene at our house with one of our foster children. Day one I broke out the behavior modification systems I learned as an elementary school teacher. That’s a big word that basically means to use reward charts and chore charts to encourage desired behavior in children. We started by just rewarding simple things like those listed above. When he performed the desired tasks for two days in a row, he earned a trip to the dollar store. It cost me only a buck, but the peace that came with the changed behavior was worth far more. As some of these tasks became habits, we dropped them from the chart and added new ones. His grandma was surprised at how well he was doing in our home, and he enjoyed telling her about his frequent trips to the dollar store.
This is by far the most effective way I’ve found to shape a young child’s behavior. I used it all the time with my boys and will be using it with my girls as well. Here are some reward charts I found on Amazon (affiliate links): This Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Magnetic Responsibility Chart With 90 Magnets is pretty neat. Someone gave us this recently and I plan to use it when the girls get a little older. If you’re looking for something a little simpler, check out the Rewards Chore Chart for Kids – 49 Responsibility and Behavior Chores – Ultra Thick Magnetic Board. (Picture below)
Discipline That We Are Eliminating
Now that the fun stuff is out of the way, brace yourself for the controversy–SPANKING. Yep, I’m venturing into that hot button topic. I am going to be brutally honest with you about what I’ve learned about spanking by sharing my past experiences and explaining why I’m doing things differently this time around.
Why do people make the choice to spank their children? For many, it’s just the way things have always been done, so why not continue. Some don’t know better ways to discipline. Some believe it’s a Biblical mandate: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13:24) This is commonly quoted, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Now I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I have a hard time believing that God is telling us we must use a physical rod to discipline our children. He is, however, clearly saying that it’s important to discipline our children.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “If it hurts when you do that, don’t do that.” Somehow, most kids don’t get that message, especially boys. Doesn’t matter that they broke their wrist the last time they skateboarded down that huge hill, they will do it again. At age two, one my boys found that he could get out of his crib by falling head first onto the hardwood floor. It didn’t seem to bother him, because it was worth the payoff of getting out of his bed. On the contrary, one of my girls climbed out of her crib once when she was two and hurt herself and never climbed out again. She knew she could, but the risk of pain was too great for her. So if we think a spanking will stop a child from repeating a behavior over and over, many times it won’t. I understand there are exceptions to every rule, but in my experience, spanking doesn’t really help shape behavior.
Honest Thoughts About Spanking
Yes, we did spank our boys, probably for a combination of the reasons listed above. I’m about to share some things about spanking that I’ve never admitted or heard anyone else speak. But I can be sure that if I’ve thought these things, many other spanking parents have as well.
I remember the look in my sons’ eyes when I spanked them as little children. They looked sad and confused, wondering why their precious Mama who loved them was hurting them. They didn’t connect their behavior to the spanking, so what good was it serving? Yes, you could make a case for waiting until a child is old enough to truly understand. But again we can ask, is there another way to achieve the desired behavior?
Here’s the kicker that most people won’t admit: a parent who is okay with spanking their children will, at some point, spank in anger. AND THAT’S NOT OKAY. EVER. Children drive you to frustration, exhaustion, confusion, and definitely anger. If you’ve decided it’s okay to spank your children, it’s easy to justify hitting them in anger. It was just a spanking. Not.
I imagine by now you’ve guessed that we will not be spanking our girls. In addition to all the reasons I’ve discussed here, we started out knowing we would not spank them because it is never okay to spank a foster child. Many, probably most, of them have witnessed or been victims of violence. Physical discipline would be detrimental to their healing process.
Will spanking scar your child for life? No. There are plenty of good, non-violent people in the world who were raised with spankings, probably most of my generation. But there are just as many good people who were raised without spankings. I am not here to condemn parents who choose to spank their children; remember, I used to be one of them. I am simply sharing what we learned in parenting and how it is shaping our parenting this time around.
More to Come
Come back next week as I share what I’m learning about a unique problem that wasn’t even a thing when I parented my boys. And be sure to come back the following week when I wrap up the series by sharing my boys’ thoughts about their growing up years.