Tuesday 28 July 2009

Behaviour Modification: Punishment

This entry has been a long time coming, but it’s something that is often on my mind. Every day I hear the same parenting advice – punishment and rewards, threats and praise, negative and positive attention. In other words, the very definition of behaviour modification.

Does it work? That depends on what your goals are. If your goal is to get your child to mind you, then yes, it quite often does. However, for our own family’s goals, we have chosen not to use this system of behaviour modification. I’d like to share our reasons for this choice, today focusing in particular on the punishment side, saving the rewards/praise aspect for another day. This is not meant as a criticism of others - I am certain that all of us would agree that we want to raise our children in the manner that is best for them - but rather as an explanation of our own choices.

External versus Internal Focus

The goal of punishment is to inflict something unpleasant on the child, whether physical (spanking, slapped hand, etc) or emotional (shaming, time-out/separation from parent, loss of favourite toy, etc), in order to discourage them from repeating the behaviour. The focus is on the external – how to extinguish the negative behaviour – rather than on the internal. Heart-level change does not result from punishment.

There is also an aspect of fear to punishment. The child “obeys” because they don’t want to be spanked. The child “obeys” because they don’t want a time-out…because they don’t want to be separated from their parents for a time…because they don’t want to have their toy taken away. The child does not make the right decision simply because it is the right decision. Rather than teaching obedience for the right reasons, punishment teaches obedience for all the wrong ones, instilling wrong motives in a child’s heart. The child does not choose to do right out of an inner sense of compassion and justice, nor do they obey out of a sense of love and devotion to the parent (which then carries over into a similar relationship with our Father – obeying Him because they love Him) – instead, they “obey” merely to avoid the unpleasant result of disobedience. And yet this is not obedience at all. True obedience comes from the heart, not from force or fear.

This is the most prevalent mentality I see in our churches today. As long as the outside is “good”, the inside doesn’t matter. As long as I attend church, it doesn’t matter what I do to my wife behind closed doors. As long as I’m an active member of my community, it doesn’t matter than I beat my children every evening. As long as I do all the “right things”, it doesn’t matter if I look down my nose at all those other “sinners”. And yet this is entirely contrary to what God says – God says it is our hearts that matter most of all, and the sins we can’t see that are the most dangerous.

Encourages Negative Behaviours

Punishment encourages a child to hide their feelings rather than express them honestly and truthfully. This can have a myriad of negative consequences down the road, well into adulthood, affecting their relationships with spouses, children, and friends. Children are not taught appropriate ways to deal with anger – they are taught that expressions of anger result in being spanked or sent to their room. They are not taught how to handle their feelings – they are taught that crying will result in being given “something to cry about”. They are taught that happy is the only acceptable emotion.

Study after study has also shown that punishment increases deceitful behaviour in children. Afraid to own up to their mistakes, they become secretive, they lie, and they hide their errors and wrongdoings. In addition, there is no “motive” to obey when the threat of punishment is removed. If they have spent their lives obeying only to avoid punishment, there is no need to continue to obey when the parent is not present or when the child thinks they can “get away with it”.

Finally, the child will come to consider whether the negative behaviour is “worth” the punishment. Is sneaking this candy “worth” the spank I will get? Is taunting my little sister “worth” being sent to my room for a while? And then what recourse does the parent have left when a punishment is no longer effective? Harder spankings? Longer groundings? More loss of privilege? There’s only so much you can do once the child has learned to weigh the negative behaviour against the likely punishment – and then the behaviour spirals out of control.

Prevents Learning from Natural/Logical Consequences

Rather than teaching the child, punishment actually prevents the opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes. The child experiences the punishment, which is nearly always unrelated to the wrongdoing (spanking, time-out, loss of unrelated privilege, etc), but does not experience the natural or logical consequence of his action. He is not given the chance to develop problem solving skills, to find ways to effect restitution, resolution, and reconciliation in the situation. He simply “pays” for his wrongdoing rather than learning how to fix it. The message taken away is “don’t do that again” (or, at least, don’t get caught doing that again), rather than “I can fix this and learn from my mistakes”. Punishment prevents a child from learning how to take responsibility for his actions. We see this every day in our society – adults who are afraid to own up to their mistakes and don’t have the skills to fix them.

Discipline, on the other hand, shows the child what they have done wrong, gives them ownership of the problem, gives them options for solving the problem, and makes use of natural or logical consequences. It does not shame the child or make him pay for his errors.

Increases Peer Vulnerability

Because punishment only teaches a child to obey, and not why to obey or how to think for themselves and make their own decisions, a child is more vulnerable to peer-pressure. Already practiced people-pleasers, a child raised using behaviour modification is more easily swayed into following the crowd. They have often not developed the necessary skills to be assertive and say no, to retain their individuality, to think through a decision on their own and to make a wise choice.

Sends Conflicting Messages

Punishment often sends conflicting messages, such as hitting a child in order to teach them not to hit others. How does anyone see any logic in that?

Even when hitting others is not the issue, however, punishment still demonstrates that one can get their way through force. Children will learn what we model – the biggest and strongest win, fear is a powerful motivator, it is acceptable to hit people that wrong you, and the easy way out is the suitable choice.

Most of us object to the comparison of children with animals, and yet the prevalent parenting method in our culture (behaviour modification) is one that was used on animals in the first place.

Negates the Message of the Gospel

Many of the big Christian authors will tell you that your child’s salvation depends on you punishing them. Punishment is considered the method of paying for their sin and removing the child’s guilt.

This is completely contrary to the message of the Gospel, which says that all of our sins, including those of children, have already been paid by Christ on the cross. Punishing our child again takes away from that message. It says that what Christ has already done was not enough.

The idea that any parenting method can save a child is likewise contrary to the Gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can draw our child to Christ. Only Christ can save our child through faith. And faith is a gift of God, lest any man (or parent) should boast.

You cannot beat a child into salvation. A child is not saved by a parent punishing him in order to "atone for his sin". A child is not saved by "being good". A child is saved through a relationship with Jesus Christ - nothing more, nothing less - and anything that suggests otherwise is outright heresy.

Contrary to the Grace of God

Instead of saving them, punishment presents a distorted view of God to our children. God raises His children with grace and mercy, not punishment. In His love, He does allow us to experience the natural consequences of our actions, but He does not punish us. That is not the way Jesus treated His disciples, either.

Moreover, punishment is often unrealistic, as we begin to demand more from our children than we expect from ourselves. I love the way Christie phrased it:

"We always use "punitive" for kids. What about for ourselves? Oh no, for ourselves we want mercy and grace and patience and kindness and every other chance available..... but for our kids? LAW LAW LAW.”

There often seems within the Christian community to be a hyper-focus on verses intended for others. In this case, many parents quote Ephesians 6:1 (“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”), and yet ignore the verse directed towards parents that follows (“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and discipline of the Lord.”). It is not our place to make our children obey us; that verse contains an instruction for them, not for us. Rather, it is our duty to “bring them up in the training and discipline of the Lord”.

Punishment is not Discipline

The words “punishment” and “discipline” are typically used interchangeably in our culture, despite the significant difference between the two. I’ve found this chart on the difference between punishment and discipline to be excellent.

Punishment is the use of an undesirable action intended to make the child feel bad in order to reduce or eliminate the desire to exhibit the same behaviour again. The focus is on control over external behaviours to achieve compliance.

Discipline is the continuous process of coming alongside the child to teach and guide them into maturity. The focus is on the internal, inspiring proper motives for heart-level obedience. It requires much patience, much grace, much wisdom, and much repetition. It teaches a child the how’s and why’s so that they can make decisions on their own, and it allows them to make wrong decisions while the child is still safe at home in order that they may learn from the consequences of those wrong decisions before they are sent out into the world on their own.

I often hear statements along the lines of “I had to discipline my son last night,” as though “discipline” is a one-time occurrence. Yet discipline is a constant part of everyday life, a continuous process of modelling, teaching, guiding, and building relationships. Discipline is active teaching, not mere reactions and punishments. It is coming alongside your child to guide them into maturity, not standing above them ready to force them into submission as soon as they do something wrong. Discipline requires a relationship between the parent and child that is based on mutual love, trust and respect. Punishment undermines this relationship, and indeed is incompatible with discipline.

There are parents who choose to use both punishment and true discipline while raising their children (following spankings (punishment) with long talks and wise guidance (discipline)), and point to their child as evidence that punishment “works” – and yet it is the discipline that has worked in spite of the punishment, and would have worked at least as well without the punishment. If you know that you can raise a child without punishment, why choose to punish anyway? It’s illogical. It’s like saying you’re aware that you can have a good marriage without nagging your husband…but you’re going to choose to nag him anyway. Just because.

Corporal Punishment

Before I end, I wanted to touch briefly on some additional reasons we have for avoiding the use of spanking in particular.

When someone raises concerns about spanking, the most common response is “I was spanked and I turned out fine”. However that doesn’t negate the very real fact that risks do exist and that there are many people who were spanked are didn’t turn out "fine". Many of them are still, as adults, dealing with the ramifications of their well-meaning parents. Just because something "works" doesn't make it right.


In many countries, physical punishment is illegal. In Canada, it is illegal to strike a child under 2 or over 12. I find it sad to hear so many parents talking of their “parental right” to hit their child. It is illegal for my husband to hit me. It is illegal for me to hit a stranger on the street. It is illegal for my co-worker to hit me. It is illegal for me to hit my acquaintance. But a child – the only one who can’t defend himself – is fair game? I wonder how many parents who believe they have a “right” to hit their child also believe their spouse should have the “right” to hit them when they act undesirably.


The practice of spanking on the buttocks comes from the Victorian era, not biblical times as is so often assumed. There is no record of striking a child on the buttocks before this time. Spanking began as d0mestic discipline (‘0’ to prevent Google searches on the subject from leading here, thankyouverymuch – and please Google with care yourselves, should you wish to look up more information on the subject) between spouses, not as a child discipline practice at all. The sexual origin of striking on the buttocks is enough reason all by itself for me to not spank my children in that manner.


It is generally accepted by many in the Christian community that physical punishment is “biblical”. The “rod verses” (all found in Proverbs) are frequently referenced as evidence that physical punishment is at least permitted, if not mandated, and that any Christian who wishes to take the Bible literally must physically strike their child.

And yet physical punishment today rarely looks like the “literal” interpretation of those verses. The rod referenced is the Hebrew word shebet, which the Bible says in Exodus was capable of killing a grown adult. If you want to truly take those verses “literally”, you would have to strike the child on the back with a shepherd’s staff, large enough that you could conceivably kill him with it.

This is why I always scratch my head when Christians talk about how maybe some spankings aren’t okay, but as long as you do it “biblically”, it’s alright. By “biblically”, they typically mean a) don’t spank in anger, b) hit your child only with an implement (wooden spoon, switch, belt, glue stick, etc) OR only with your hand (depending on who you’re talking to), and c) “reconcile” with your child afterwards. Yet these things are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible – in fact, the only place you can find such formulas for “biblical spanking” is from the Christian parenting giants, the Pearls and Ezzos and Dobsons, those wolves in sheep’s clothing who have worked their way into the Christian community and led so many well-intentioned parents astray with their "godly" and "biblical" parenting methods.

Regardless, examining the rod verses closer provides a very different picture. A shepherd's staff (rod/shebet) is used to guide, not to beat. Rather than examine this subject in detail here (worthy of an entire entry itself), I highly recommend this study on the subject.

Final Thoughts

Thanks to Skinner, this behaviour modification model has become prevalent in our society over the past hundred years. Children raised under this model will often swing one of two ways, either becoming “good little girls and boys”, people-pleasers, and performance-oriented on the one side; or bitter, angry, and rebellious on the other.

Behaviour modification fails to teach inner discipline, instills wrong motives in our children’s hearts, and stunts the development of wise decision making and autonomy. For Christians, it presents a distorted view of God to our children and hinders their ability to obey from a place of love and devotion. For all these reasons and more, we cannot in good conscience use the behaviour modification model of punishment and rewards, threats and praise, negative attention and positive attention.

Parenting with grace and true discipline is not easy. It requires a great deal of time, effort, patience, relationship, and most of all prayer. It is firm but not unyielding, flexible but not permissive. It teaches a child how to think, not merely what to think, with a focus on the heart rather than outward appearance. It recognises the unique nature of each child and honours them as God's creation. It models for our children the same love and grace that God mercifully extends to us.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18

Suggested reading:
Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey
Heartfelt Discipline by Clay Clarkson
The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson
Kids are Worth It! by Barbara Coloroso
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen


  1. Wow great post! Today has been a rough day with an overtired toddler and mommy. I, for the first time, contemplated time out because my daughterwas spitting everywhere. The easy thing would have been to put her in time out. I didn't and your post is a good reminder of what I believe about parenting. I wish more christian parents felt the same way. Thanks for helping me find my way back to mindful parenting today.

  2. I could not agree with you more. Thank you for posting this. I wish more parents would take the time to consider such things. May I ask you a personal question: how does Isaac react to these sort of teachings? Was he always on board with you or did it take awhile to come around? My husband has come a long way from what his original mindset was, and I am so grateful. He came from a home where he was spanked/hit with a belt/paddled/etc. and so it was hard to try to show him that there are other effective ways to parent. Ever since he read that grace-based Catholic parenting book I wrote about awhile ago, I have noticed his behavior toward Hannah change a lot.

    For me, even while I know in my heart and mind that this is good parenting, I still falter and have to constantly fight myself from veering toward a punishment-based parenting style (not spanking but sending Hannah to her room or badgering her to stop whining/crying, for example). I think what I really need are just more tools for what to say/do when we're in the middle of a "situation."

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts on praise/rewards. I can see the mindset behind it but I have a hard time not praising Hannah every time she has a success at something, whether it be listening to my direction, using the potty, etc. What should I be doing instead?

  3. This is great. I'd like to read more about this as you have peeked my interest in this subject. I think this is a great time for me to read more about it too because I don't have kids yet. I always enjoy your posts :)

  4. @Trisha and Korey - Thank you, that is so encouraging to hear. :)

    @Reece - I'm always amazed at how similar our situations are!

    No, Isaac was not always on board with the idea of non-punitive parenting. Before we had children, we both agreed that spankings and other punishments were the best way to raise children. It wasn't until our own child was born that our hearts softened and we began to reconsider our pre-parenthood assumptions.

    I find that Isaac really takes his parenting cues from me. If I have a bad day and start treating our son harshly, I always notice that he immediately begins to follow suit. It's like having a mirror held up to you - I don't always like what I see, which gives me the opportunity to step back, calm down, and refocus so that I can better deal with our son.

    Isaac is also a very logical person, so our parenting conversations tend to be quite short and sweet. When Jacob was much younger, for example, he began trying to hit our faces. Isaac asked me if we should start slapping his hand to make him stop hitting us. I suggested that maybe it didn't make sense to hit him in order to teach him not to hit. Isaac considered this, saw the logic, and agreed. From then on, we would instead catch his hand mid-swing, bring it to our face, and have him stroke our cheek while we said "gentle". Showing him a positive alternative was immediately effective (the attempted hitting was gone within a couple days, replaced by the sweetest little hand stroking our cheeks all the time) and far more logical than slapping his hand for something that at the time he didn't even know was wrong. He was just being the silly baby he's always been.

    Most of our conversations have been similarly brief and to-the-point. We both recognize that behaviour modification may change his outward behaviour, but it won't teach him anything in the long run. And, again, Isaac tends to pick up on my attitude towards Jacob, so as long as I am treating him with grace and avoiding punitive parenting, so does he.

    Having been raised in a very punitive home myself, I can completely relate to what you said about struggling against falling into that punitive mindset. Oddly enough, those exact two examples you gave were ones I was fighting against myself this week, the temptation to just send Jacob to his room or to badger him to stop crying. It was recognizing that struggle that got me to finally get around to writing this entry - to remind and refocus myself as much as to share with others. It is a constant battle against my flesh to avoid that mindset that comes so easily because of how I myself was raised.

    Being aware of my own reasons behind the temptation helps me to deal with the situation more effectively. For me, I'm often tired and just want a few minutes of quiet after a long day, so I find myself much more impatient with any whining, crying, or even just plain happy excited behaviour. Recognizing that it is myself, and not him, that is the "problem" enables me to step back and calm down. Instead of sending him to his room, I can give him the option to calm down while sitting on my knee or to calm down on his bed - his choice. Instead of pestering him to stop whining or crying, I can get down on his level and properly deal with the upset. I can remember to soothe his tears rather than order them away.

    Heh, and now this comment is too long to post! I'll address the praise issue in a second comment.

  5. I admit I wrote the punishment one first because I too have a harder time retaining a firm grasp on the idea of not praising! A huge part of it, though, is the intent behind the praise. Praise is often spoken of in terms of manipulating a child into "being good" - ignore the child until they do what you want, and then heap on lots of praise so that they'll want to do it again. That is behaviour modification. Sincere praise, on the other hand, is important. When Jacob is truly excited over something, I will share in that excitement and enthusiasm with him. When he does something I ask him to, a simple "thank you" is offered, sometimes a more specific "hey, I really appreciated that, that really helped me out" if he's done something "big". Rather than manipulating the child, sincere praise allows us to share in our children's joy, support their endeavours, and provide specific feedback on their actions.

    I think it does require a fair bit of observance on the parent's part. Recognizing that a child is becoming praise-dependent - doing things for the praise rather than just for the sake of doing them - shows us that we need to reconsider how we go about praising them. Maybe we need to be more specific, maybe we need to reflect back to them ("how do you feel about your drawing/that choice/those results?"), maybe we need to scale things back a bit (not praising over every tiny little thing they do).

    Rewards are clearer in my mind - just like punishment, they instill wrong motives and teach our child to do the "right thing" in order that they may get the reward rather than sincerely making good decisions for the sake of the outcome itself. (Chores should be done in order to help the family, not to get an allowance; good choices should be made because they are the right thing to do, not because they will be rewarded with a new toy; etc.) Praise really depends more on the intent, I think. Withholding attention until they do something "right", and then heaping on the "positive attention", is the very definition of behaviour modification, just as punishment is. Expressing our sincere happiness over our child's growth isn't the same thing.

    Anyway, I too am looking forward to exploring the issue of praise further! It is still a bit fuzzy in my mind, but writing it out always helps me to clear everything up in there and to refocus my own heart. Thanks for your feedback, Erika. :)

  6. Absolutely! I want my children to act in certain ways because of internal motivation, because they understand these are the good things to do, because it makes them happy. Not because they are afraid of punishment or expecting a reward of some kind.

  7. This is a very great post! You are right, teaching them it's about the inward is great! You write so well. I cannot begin to articulate my views like you can. I wish I could.

    BluePixo- I don't think she was meaning you can control their behavior She was trying to get the point across it's more than just bad and good behaviors equal rewards. It's about teaching them that you do things b/c they are right not so you don't get whipped/time out/whatever or you get a cookie b/c you obeyed.

  8. I think I'm one of the parents who's a combination of "punishment" and "discipline" - we do time-out with Raiden, but explain to him why and talk to him about it afterwards. Most of the time talking to him alone will work okay, but sometimes ... not so much. He will occasionally get very worked up over something Not Allowed (for example, going outside by himself), and Will Not Listen while he's so mad that we didn't let him do something. We do time-out to get him to calm down so he can listen.

    I have wondered on occasion, though, if this method just shows him that it's not okay to act angry, and a few times as soon as I've sat him down he'll yell "SORRY MAMA!" or start taking deep breaths in an attempt to make time-out be over sooner... so, with your post agreeing with my wonderings about it, what do you do when "I know you're mad, it's okay to be mad but it's not okay to hit Mommy" doesn't work?

    We don't spank or hit him (it's happened a few times, but we always apologize and explain that it wasn't okay for Mommy or Daddy to do that), and the times I realize we're both just getting TOO worked up, we take a drink-milk-and-snuggle break to chill back out rather than getting in a screaming match.

    So, how do you handle it when a toddler gets really, really mad and doesn't know how to handle it, and simply refuses to listen to anything you say?

  9. Also, I just remembered, Happiest Toddler even suggests time-out. Didn't you recommend that book? That just suddenly made my brain explode.

  10. Sorry about your brain, Karyn. ;) Yes, I do recommend Happiest Toddler on the Block, with some reservations (like the page on CIO) - I've yet to find a parenting book that I agree with 100%! As far as my fuzzy mommy-brain can remember (and I don't have the book here to reference), the book recommended "time-ins" rather than time-outs. However, it may well have recommended both - as with any book, I take the good and leave the rest. My apologies for making your brain explode there.

    As for Really Mad Toddler, we definitely have one of those at times as well. Rather than sending him to his room as a punishment or as a way to prevent him from expressing his anger, we will give him two options. We recognize that there are times when he needs to calm down before we can do any talking, so he always has the option of calming down in his room by himself (giving him space if that's what he wants) or calming down on mommy/daddy's knee (a "time-in" of sorts). Sometimes he chooses one and sometimes he chooses the other, and sometimes he's so upset that we choose for him ("we're going to lie down in bed; daddy will stay with you until you've calmed down").

    We also, proactively, use those times when he isn't in the middle of a complete toddler meltdown (which, really, are rare for us anyway) to teach him better ways to handle his anger. Stamp your feet rather than hitting, tell us how you feel rather than screaming, etc.

    I think there's a huge difference between helping a child calm down ("you need to lie down for a while until you can calm down a bit - do you need me to stay with you?") and using "time-out" as a punishment ("go to your room for x minutes and think about what you did"). It's definitely good parenting to recognize when your child is getting worked up and proactively needs a break from playing, or when your child is so upset that he isn't able to hear anything you say until he calms down, and to take steps to help them deal with that.

  11. Love the post! This encompasses what I believe in my heart, except that it's so much more better written that what I would have done. Perhaps because it's all still a bit fuzzy for me too? I think we all start in the fuzzy stage, and as we learn more (by growing with our children - they teach us so much) and gain experience, things start to make sense. For me too, often, writing it out clears out the clutter. :)

    I like that chart you linked; I printed it for our fridge. As a reminder to us, but also for those who might come in our house, as a gentle way to say: this is how we do it here. I've been raised with punishments as well, and it can be touchy to broach the subject of an alternative to this method with your parents, without unintentionally giving out the message that you are criticizing them. Have you been in that situation before with your parents? How did you handle it?

    Looking forward to reading your next post on praise - this is also something I want to think about further. I liked your response about it - that the answer lies in the intent. I've myself told Ariana "Good for you!" when she went in the potty the first time. I guess I was just excited for her, but it wasn't a wait-for-it, wait-for-it, YES, praise!! type of thing. I like the idea of the simple "thank you" when they do something you asked for in the first place.

    As for rewards... I have mixed feelings about it. It's nice sometimes to treat yourself to something nice, say if you've been working hard on, say, getting active, and you've been doing really really good, so you buy yourself a CD. But it's a thin line between that, and using it as a primer. I don't believe in the sticker reward system for conventional potty training, for example (anyway, we're EC-ing, apparently! heh). I think it just teaches the child how to get a sticker, not appropriate toilet habits for sanitary reasons.

    I also like the idea of time-ins, which I've subconsciously considered doing (I say subconsciously because I simply didn't have a name for it), and in offering a choice to help with the calming down. I've also always thought this a better way to deal with a tantrum - anger begets anger, in my opinion. When I asked for advice on an AP forums for Ariana's middle of the night play tantrums, where she won't be rocked, held, or anything - except play - I've been told about how sometimes just staying with them, helping them channel their anger and upset feelings, goes a long way: stroking their back, telling them how you understand their feelings, that it's legitimate, but 3 am is still not a time for playing, shhh, it's ok, Mommy's here, we'll calm down together. That really stroke me as logic, sane, and most of all, loving.

    Ok, I'm also writing long comment posts :D

  12. Thanks so much for the feedback, Joe. :)

    I do know what you mean about the difficuly in broaching the subject with your parents without making them feel criticized themselves. So far we've managed to avoid too much confrontation on the subject, but I know they already feel criticized over the things we've done differently (co-sleeping, parenting to sleep, extended breastfeeding, etc). I am not the person to ask about how to deal with it well though! I'm definitely one to just avoid confrontation when possible, as much as I know that is not the best or most constructive approach. I know it will become more of an issue as the years go by, though. I have come to recognize that I cannot take responsibility for their feelings - I can be compassionate, polite, open, etc, and of course try to make it clear that my different decisions are not a criticsm of the way they raised me, but in the end their feelings are their own responsibility. Also, I expect to need to do a lot of "pass the bean dip" with my family - answer the question/criticism and move directly on to a new subject rather than allowing it to evolve into an argument or permit criticisms to continue. It is such a delicate area though, isn't it?

  13. Do you have links/references to the Victorian era of beginning to spank kids? I've often wondered about that but haven't seen printed/written information on its origins.

    Thanks for giving us a lot to think about!

  14. I tend to try and avoid confrontation too when possible, but agree that it's not always possible! I suspect we read the same "Pass the bean dip" article - loved that one. :) I have it posted on my fridge... *hint hint* lol I tend to justify a lot, I need to try and stop doing that.

    You have a good point about realizing that other's reactions/opinions/feelings are their own and their own only. You are not responsible for them, and do not need to be held up on your shoulders. I need to do that more myself... :)

  15. I came over here from phdinparenting.

    I agree with very nearly every word written here. You put into words my feelings about punishment much better than I could have. So, so many good reasons as to the "whys"...

    But I'm struggling with the "hows".

    For some background, we have a 6 year old, almost 3 year old and a 7 1/2 month old. ALL. BOYS.

    Our oldest, being six, is quite easy to reason with. We did use time outs with him and he was spanked on occasion, but rarely. He really is a wonderful little person. Other than a being whiny when tired, he's generally helpful, always truthful (even if it's about some misbehaviour or misdeed), does what is asked of him, and is clever and motivated to learn.

    This is possibly, as you said, in spite of some of our parenting choices and not because of them.

    We decided when our oldest was around 3 that the whole spanking thing just wasn't for us. We were going to do things differently.

    Now our real challenge is our 2 year old. CHALLENGE. It's frustrating since we tried to do things much more gently with him and yet in the last week he's gotten more spankings than in the previous 2 1/2+ years of his life!

    I hate doing it. TBH I don't think it makes one bit of difference either. I end up feeling worse than he does!

    But what do you do when it's not an issue of having a child "mind" you, but an issue of them hurting -in this case- a baby.

    For example, my 2 year old picked up a biggish METAL car this morning and FOR NO REASON threw it at his 7 month old brother's head. It wasn't the first time either. Frankly, behaviour modification or not, THAT is a behaviour that I will not permit. THAT type of behaviour needs to be stopped NOW. There is no room for "talking" and "fixing", the only option is to NOT DO IT AGAIN.

    He was not upset about anything. It was not an expression of anger or frustration or any other even slightly justifiable feeling.

    I could list many other examples of behaviour/actions that I feel need to be dealt with in a more immediate fashion than what you advocate... Maybe it's that the dynamic changes drastically when there are more/older children?

    (I'm not trying to be all, "of course it's easy for you when you only have one young child to parent", but gosh, this was all waaaaay easier when I only had one!)

    What do you do when the health/safety of one of your children out-weighs your desire to use non-punitive parenting methods?

    I'm really not trying to argue, so hope it's not coming across that way. Like I said, your "whys" are SPOT ON. But where can I find more info/advice/guidance on the "hows" of dealing with specific undesirable behaviours??

    This post was has really challenged my thinking on this issue, but it's also left me feeling a bit hopeless. It really seems like more of an ideology than a method.


  16. What a lovely post. Thank you for taking the time to write with clarity and conviction.

    I *heart* the previous poster who wants the "Hows". Don't we all at times?! Sometimes we just want a prescription that is guaranteed to work. Especially once you add another child and another...and are dealing with multiple stages and challenges and lack of sleep!

    The thing is. There is no such prescription. Each child is different and each family is different, aren't they? Only me, as a parent, will know exactly what is best for my child. This requires that 1) I am calm, rested, thinking properly, etc. and 2) we are connected.

    Will try not to leave too long a comment =) Thank you, and I'm off to read the next post on Praise.

  17. I just came across your blog via PhD in Parenting and I feel like I've found a kindred parenting spirit. I really found this post refreshing because you usually don't hear about gentle discipline from a Christian perspective. And, sadly, most of the opposition I've received to my parenting decisions comes from my fellow Christians. Thank you for this post. I'll continue reading your blog in the future.

  18. I believe that sometimes punishment works in the moment, but it does not have long term effect behavior; most people who punish continue to punish for the same behaviors over and over. We want to win our children's cooperation (we want them to want to cooperate) versus winning over our children (ha, ha, I made you do it because I bullied you in to it). Great article - thanks!

    Amy (with 3 sons, one of whom hits the baby) all behavior has a purpose and is usually driven by a need for a sense of belonging and significance. So it is no wonder that when a new baby comes around an older sibling feels a sense of displacement. I encourage all parents to get their older siblings (even if they're only 1.5 years old) involved in the care of the baby: helping with diapers, feeding, giving love, etc; Also, quality alone time with each child is important (not always possible, I realize); and finally, teaching gentle touch and explaining why nongentle touch is not okay. Hitting a child doesn't teach them that hitting others hurts. It only teaches them that they are not okay, which makes them angry, resentful and rebellious, thereby lowering their self-efficacy and self-esteem.

  19. What great suggestions, Anon. I appreciate you taking the time to offer your thoughts!

    Amy, I hear you on needing the how's, and I'm so sorry I never did respond to you here. I did take your request to heart, though, and it was the driving force behind my follow-up post, The Hows of Discipline. I hope you find it helpful!

  20. Wonderful post. I'm currently reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn.... this post really reminded me of the message of that book. It's by no means a Christian book but has the same the message about punishments/rewards etc. I'm curious to know if you've read it and if you did, why you didn't suggest it in the list of books.

    1. I have read it; excellent book. It would definitely be a great one to add to the list here. Thank you for pointing out its absence!

  21. Your blog entries have brought tears to my eyes. Growing up in a Christian home I was spanked, and I always thought I would spank my own. I never had a doubt about it! Then when my first was a year old (about a year ago), and we had spanked her just a few times, I told my husband "you know, I just cannot spank her. I don't know why, but I just can't!". So thus ended our attempts at spanking. In my head, I thought it was God mandated! So it made me wonder "if God really 'ordained' spanking, then why does my conscience bother me. God never requires us to do anything that goes against the very conscience he gave us! So that has led to all my research and findings about spanking, I loved the book Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me by Samuel Martin. So I found your blog last week and have been devouring everything you are writing, and staying up till midnight to do so=) (Which probably isn't the best idea, since we have a 4 month old boy who still looooooves his night time feedings). Last night at about midnight I read your entry about circumcision, and almost cried with my joy at not having our son circumcised. I had planned to all along, then about a week before he was born I read some things about it and decided not to. I can honestly say the relief I feel about not having him circumcised is palpable. All this to say, THANK YOU for everything you write. You are helping me learn so much about how to become the parent God wants me to be. Thank you thank you for providing insight into an area that Christian parents NEED to know!

  22. This is something that has been on my heart and mind as well, thank you so much for posting. I know you have a third child coming, but if you have time you can read the post I just wrote about it. It's almost like we are reading each other's minds=) Blessings!