Discipline vs. Punishment


I turned on the radio late yesterday evening, and there was a debate happening between two guests on the Sean Hannity show concerning recent news of a child abuse conviction in Alaska.  The “Hot Sauce Mom,” Jessica Beagley of Anchorage, AK is now awaiting sentencing due to being found guilty of misdemeanor child abuse after she videotaped herself pouring Tabasco sauce down her 7-year-old adoptive child’s throat and made him stand in a cold shower.  These punishments were the result of lying about getting in trouble at school.  I am going to present some observations about the situation as I have seen it and heard about it.  I will break these posts into three parts: discipline, lying, and special circumstancing affecting how parents should discipine.

One of the guests on the radio show debated that the punishment presented temporary discomfort and that the mother was clear and upfront about why she was treating her son that way, but it turned out not to be the case in my eyes as I watched the video online.  The mother yelled throughout the encounter.  While yelling happens and is sometimes effective in getting a child’s attention, it should not be a part of administering discipline.  I depart from saying “punishment” at this point, because punishment is perhaps the least effective way to shape a child.  Punishment is clearly what was occurring in the video and can be the only reason I would think of to put hot sauce down a child’s throat.  Punishment is easy to do, especially when angry.

Discipline is hard to do, because the parent has to be disciplined in order to instill discipline in a child.  Discipline involves clearly stated expectations, clearly stated consequences, and consistent use incentives or deterrents.  The definition of these depends on the age of the child.  For young children, simple expectations repeated often with little or no explanation is most effective.  The older children get, expectations become more ongoing or long-term (clean your room every day, wake up on time, or don’t lie) and more explanation will be required to keep from frustrating the child and to develop their sense of right and wrong.

Perhaps most importantly concerning discipline is consistency.  Children learn what they see and hear regularly, and inconsistencies in expectations or explanations make compliance less likely.  More importantly, if you have offered an incentive to the child that he ultimately does not receive, the incentive has no value as a way to influence the child’s behavior.  Finally, if you plan to spank a child or you ground him but do not carry through with these deterrents, a child has no reason to believe you will actually use them in the future.

More to come on the subject of children lying.

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