Discipline or Punish…what helps a child learn best?

It has been a tough month for the NFL.  There’s the Ray Rice domestic violence case and now charges against Adrian Peterson for child abuse related to his hitting his four year old child with a switch to the point of leaving significant marks on the child.

All sorts of people have weighed in on this case–some in horror to what was done to this child and others with a shrug as they say “Well, I got hit when I was a kid and I turned out okay”.  This is forcing us to confront a huge reality–that we have used punishment as a regular method of child development for a very long time. Some insist it is a good and necessary tool in a parent’s tool kit and others insist it be removed forever.

But here’s the key issue–if we are going to help our children build healthy, whole and dynamic lives, are we going to use discipline or punishment as the way to do this.  To discipline means “to teach”. To punish means “to hurt”.  Framed in this way–it really asks parents to decide–are you teaching or hurting as your method of helping your child learn how to build their life?  It’s a choice that we all have to make.

The Choosing Continuum is a tool that I use a lot in my work with clients.  The 0-5 side of the Choosing Continuum is the reactive side of the continuum where we tend to approach problems through the lens of  looking for the quick fix/get rid of the problem quickly response.  The 6-10 side of the Choosing Continuum is the proactive side where we approach those very same problems through the lens of finding good, long term solutions that help us build whole and dynamic lives.  To me–punishment is a 0-5 choice.  It is quick fix, get rid of the problem but it does a very poor job of helping a child learn how to build their life.  Discipline on the other hand is a 6-10 choice.  it is proactive and seeks to find good ways to teach our child how to make better choices than the one that has gotten them in trouble in the first place. It takes more time on the 6-10 side, but it has better, long-lasting impact for the child.

For millennia, we have used punishment as a primary child development tool.  Religions have insisted on it, communities have condoned it and frankly it is a rare adult on this planet who has not experienced this in their own childhood.  This is also why it continues on, generation after generation.  We do what we were shown.  But as the Adrian Peterson case highlights–perhaps it is time we change from punishing to disciplining–from hurting to teaching.

 

 

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