Note: This post is part of a series I’m writing on Child Discipline.
Part One – Measuring Success: The Three Conditions of a Successful Disciplinary Philosophy
Let me begin by establishing three conditions that define a successful approach to discipline:
- Punishment should be minimized.
- Feelings of contentiousness, or competitiveness, or of a power-struggle between parents and children, should also be minimized.
- Applying the disciplinary approach should result in less misbehavior, and more good behavior, over time.
Many people only consider condition #3, since that is the ultimate goal of any approach to discipline. We want our children to behave. But that’s not enough for me, since after all, terrorizing children into never doing anything wrong would satisfy condition #3, but make the child miserable (and probably also the parents). So, we need the first two conditions to act as binding constraints on the over-arching goal. We should not go out of our way to punish our children, and in fact it shouldn’t even be the most-ready tool in our disciplinary tool kit. A well-adjusted and successfully reared child should want to behave well, and not merely wish to avoid punishment. Home life should also not be a constant competition between parents and children, where each party attempts to get as close to breaking the rules as possible without actually doing so. Life shouldn’t be a matter of maximizing “cans” and minimizing “can’ts.” Life at home should be cooperative, supportive, and happy.
As of this writing, it appears that my disciplinary philosophy minimizes punishment. I have thus far avoided having to punish my daughter at all – ever. I’ve been raising my daughter for four years now, and four years is a pretty good winning streak. I realize that perhaps the more challenging disciplinary scenarios are yet to come, but even so, I have a good track record so far. Moreover, my child and I, along with my wife, never feel as though we’re in contention with one another. We don’t argue with each other. We’re never trying to finagle good behavior from my daughter, and she’s never trying to finagle bad behavior or extra rewards from us. In other words, we feel mutually cooperative and loving, as a family should feel. That may not seem like much of an accomplishment to those of you who were raised in families that never or seldom experienced pervasive feelings of contentiousness. If you come from such a family, good for you! I really mean that. Not everyone has the benefit of coming from such a family, so the fact that my approach to disciplining my child avoids what seems almost inevitable to me is a marked success. And, of course, my approach to discipline seems to reduce misbehavior and promote good behavior.
Is it perfect? Have I worked out all the kinks? Am I perfect in applying my philosophy? No, of course not. None of that is ever possible. But so far, my experience gives me confidence in the future. I’ll continue to fine-tune my philosophy in coming years, but I seem to be on the right track.
In our next installment, we'll discuss what that track is.