Possibly Educational

Measuring Success in Discipline

It has been a busy, busy month.  I am severely disappointed in my lack of posts this month, seeing as I have much to say on the topic of parenting.  So, I made an executive decision to do one post a month on parenting skills.  So get excited about that!

I’ve been reading The Power of Positive Parenting by Dr. Glenn Latham, and it’s a fantastic book.  I highly recommend it.  Parts of it are slightly dated, and his examples of how to handle certain situations are shamelessly cheesy, but he has really good advice that can be applied to any family.  Anyhow, shortly after I wrote my post on spanking I read a chapter in his book on spanking.  To my delight, he made a majority of the points that I made!  I love when doctors agree with me!

He did mention one extra thing that is genius, so I thought I’d include it as well.  Dr. Latham explains that when disciplining a child, it’s important to pay attention to what happens to the child’s behavior after the discipline is administered.

For example, let’s say Tommy fights with his sister 7 times a week.  His parents have decided that this must stop, so it is decided that the punishment for fighting is sitting in time-out.  If this punishment results in Tommy only fighting with his sister 5 times that week, and then only 3 times the week after that, the punishment has been successful because it has decreased the undesired behavior.

On the other hand, what if Tommy’s parents started using the punishment and found that Tommy was still fighting with his sister 7 times a week?  Or what if Tommy started fighting with his sister 8 or 9 times a week?  If a behavior continues or happens more often, this means that the “punishment” was actually reinforcing to the child–something about the punishment encouraged the child to keep misbehaving.  How does that work out?  Maybe Tommy likes the attention he gets from his mom when she puts him in time-out.  Maybe he sees sitting in time-out as a small price to pay so long as his sister stops bugging him.  Does that mean time-out is a bad punishment?  No, it just means it doesn’t work for this kid in this situation.  If a punishment doesn’t work, it’s time to try something different.

Oddly enough, sometimes it never occurs to parents to change a punishment when it’s not working.  Sometimes parents become so caught up in the idea of a punishment–that it should work–that they have a hard time accepting that it simply isn’t working.  They think that sooner or later the punishment will change the child.  This doesn’t make any sense.  Dr. Latham uses this quote to explain, “If you’re always going to do what you’ve always done, you’re always going to get what you’ve always gotten.”  In other words, if you don’t change anything about how you parent, how do you expect your child to magically change?

Now, in my spanking post I mentioned that people use spanking because it works.  I need to clarify:  Spanking works well short-term, but not so much in the long-run.  Pain is a great short-term trainer, but a terrible long-term teacher.  If you don’t believe me, consider this:  A successful punishment decreases (or completely eliminates) bad behavior.  If spanking was successful, a parent would find themselves spanking less and less, and perhaps stop spanking altogether because their children are such perfect angels.  It might happen, but not probably not often.  More often than not, a spanking gets the child to stop the misbehavior in that moment, but it doesn’t teach them not to repeat the misbehavior in the future.  Thus, when the child does repeat the offense (and they will), all the parent remembers is that spanking got them to stop last time, so it will get them to stop again.  This is not success, by any means.  No matter how painful or unpleasant the punishment may be, it’s not successful if the child’s bad behavior doesn’t improve.

In my spanking post I promised to suggest some positive discipline strategies; don’t worry, they’re still coming!

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