“Punishment may make us obey the orders we are given, but at best it will only teach an obedience to authority, not a self-control which enhances our self-respect.
– Bruno Bettelheim, Psychiatrist
He is pushing my buttons…
Ed was a mechanic and from his work history, a good one! He was also a devoted dad but recently had divorced Samantha, a nurse. They were co-parenting their children Sam (Samuel) and Beverly, aged 16 and 13, respectively. Ed had done a lot of work on himself since his divorce to the point where he was uncovering his self worth and building a healthier relationship with Samantha and his children.
Ed walked in one morning and when I asked how things were going, he said, “I’m really struggling with Samuel…he is pushing my buttons and ignoring everything I ask him to do! And in the back of my mind, while I am trying to discipline him…I really think I am just punishing him!”
“Many people and organizations confuse punishment with discipline…do you know the difference Ed?”
“Well, what I do know is taking Sam’s cell phone away; grounding him and threatening to hold back his allowance doesn’t work!” Ed replied with frustration reddening his face quickly with the sudden rise in his blood pressure.
Punishment takes away choices while discipline gives choices…
“Simply put, punishment takes away a person’s power and discipline gives them power. Or you could say punishment takes away choices while discipline gives choices!”
“And what does that mean exactly?” Ed asked with a confused look.
“Let’s use a simple example so we can see the difference clearly. Let’s assume Sam ignored one of family rules such as a weekend curfew time.”
“That a regular for him and often about his chores!” Ed said sarcastically.
“Ed, it is important to remember discipline is based on a child being intelligent but inexperienced in the consequences of their choices. Punishment, on the other hand, is based on the child being disrespectful and indifferent to the consequences of their choices.”
“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”
– Albert Einstein, Physicist
What has not cleaning up the dishes have to do with my cell phone?
“I guess that’s what is confusing me…at times Sam will have this confused look on his face when I give him a hard time…it is as if he doesn’t understand why I would take the actions I do…like when I took his cell phone for not doing his chores…in fact he said, ‘What has not cleaning up the supper dishes have to do with my cell phone?’”
“Ed, you hit the nail right on the head! Sam couldn’t see any link between the two. That is why punished people are often confused and this slows down their learning. With discipline, the focus is on linking events and accelerating learning.”
“So how should I have dealt with his not doing the dishes so I was disciplining and not punishing him?”
“Ed, why did you want him to do the dishes in the first place?” I asked.
“Ken, I have a small place and need to keep it neat and I want him to learn to contribute to the care of our home as well…to be a responsible person.”
“Makes sense to me…so you want him to respect his home and act responsibly in it, right? So this is your key to discipline!”
It won’t work because it depowers him, taking away his dignity as well…
“Ed, as his parent you have more power than he does in the situation…but if you use this as the basis of your interaction it won’t work because it depowers him, taking away his dignity as well…so this interferes with his learning to act responsibly.”
“So, what do I do instead, Ken?”
“Ed, ask yourself two questions! First, what do I want my child to learn from whatever I decide to do? Second, how can I create empowering choices with whatever I decide to do? In this way you will protect the relationship and focus his learning.”
“So you are saying focus on his learning and create choices which will empower him and protect our relationship…is that it Ken?”
“That is exactly it Ed…a perfect summary of the core of discipline! Nice work!” I responded.
“So, how do I do that…exactly?” Ed asked with a challenging edge to his voice.
“Ed, this is where your own creativity comes into play. You know the variables much better than I. How do you think you could approach Sam in a similar situation with a discipline focused approach?”
Deciding to do his share of the house chores is important to me because…
“Well, to start, I guess I could tell him why deciding to do his share of the house chores is important to me because it shows he is learning to be responsible which reminds me I ‘m doing my job as his Dad which it important to me. And also I know he has his own values, like his cell phone and his allowance, so I will be more conscious of respecting them and I will expect him to do the same in return. And lastly, there are many options to getting the chores done we could discuss so we both get to both feel respected.”
“Ed, that sounds like a healthy start to a discussion of how you two are going to protect your relationship by honoring your own values while respecting the other’s values. What it will do is challenge both of you to communicate at a higher level of awareness of the other’s values which will nurture your relationship. You will still need to negotiate a fair resolution…but it will be with an attitude of respect which you will be modeling for your son. Respect is just a form of love.”
It took Ed time and practice to get comfortable with discipline…
As with each of us, it took Ed time and practice to get comfortable with discipline in lieu of punishment. We humans have a long history of using punishment both as individuals and as institutions. This is evolving continually. One of the catalysts in our society has been Native People’s notion of respect based Healing Circles. While punishment can be faster and can be perceived to work over the short term, over the long term it doesn’t because of its foundation of disrespect. Only by respecting an individual’s value system, while honoring our own, can we create caring communication. This is the basis of discipline and it works.
Ed went on to develop a more balanced and healthy relationship with his children. They still had their conflicts but they were short lived and resolved because of his use of discipline instead of punishment.
“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than one derived from fear of punishment.”
– Mahatma Gandhi, Lawyer
Our theme for May’s posts is “youth”! This is the first post. Please send us your feedback and any monthly theme suggestions…we love to hear from you!
If you have any specific questions about youth, relationships or any issue, feel free to contact me.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- Discipline empowers you while punishment depowers you!
- Discipline is learning focused while punishment is authority focused.
- Discipline builds relationships while punishment destroys them.
- Discipline builds self respect while punishment destroys self respect.
- Discipline is based on creating a more balanced relationship.
- Punishment is based on creating a more imbalanced relationship.
- Discipline involves using your creative brain.
- Punishment involves using your destructive brawn.
- Discipline promotes more efficient learning than punishment.
- Discipline and punishment are common learning tools.