Just minutes before your spouse is due to arrive home you look out the window and there, lying in the middle of the driveway, is Justin's bike
You yell at him to put it away quickly, before it gets run over. But he's busy and doesn't listen so in the interest of time, you run outside and grab it. And it's just in time because here comes the family car and the bike would have been invisible to the driver.
This is the third time in a week his bike has been left out on the driveway or on the lawn. You have had it, so you tell Justin that there will be no TV for him for three days. And you hope that will teach him a lesson.
But it won't. It won't because taking away that privilege is punishment and punishment just doesn't work. Discipline does.
There's a world of difference between discipline and punishment.
Punishment is about causing pain or discomfort in an effort to change behaviour. We hope he will change his behaviour in order to avoid the pain or discomfort. And it often works, but only in the short term. It works as long as it's uncomfortable enough to dissuade him from repeating the misbehaviour. So maybe, if the night we take away the TV privileges he misses his favourite program, he might think twice about his bike. But probably not. He'll be thinking it's unfair and he'll be angry with you for doing this to him.
With punishment the motivation is external. He learns that his parents will make his life miserable if he doesn't follow the rules, but he doesn't learn why those rules exist. He might learn to be sneaky so he won't get caught, and that he can misbehave when nobody's watching. We've all heard about teens who throw parties as soon as their parents are away.
Often when children are punished they play the "I don't care" game. You take away a privilege and he simply refuses to get upset.
When that happens, even if you chose a consequence that seemed to relate to the misbehaviour, he sees it as punishment. It could simply be the way you presented the consequence. "OK, young man. There will be no TV for you this weekend!" and he says, "I don't care." And now you are at a stalemate.
When you are concerned about whether he cares (or suffers), rather than whether he learns, you are using punishment.
"Because you have been spending all your time in front of the TV you have neglected both your chores and homework.
Therefore, by your behaviour you will lose the right to watch TV this weekend." Now, it's not about whether he cares (or suffers), but about him learning a bit about time management, responsibility and setting priorities.
Discipline is not about pain or punishment, nor about revenge or retribution. Discipline is about teaching, guiding and training. When we discipline children we are teaching them the difference between right and wrong.
We're helping them to learn about the consequences of their actions.
So, going back to Justin and his bike. He needs to learn that it's important to put his bike away. There needs to be a connection between his choice and the outcome.
Now, if you do nothing it could be that his bike would get run over or maybe stolen. He would learn but can you live with that?
It makes more sense to remove his bike privileges. Let him know that riding a bike includes the responsibility for caring for it. That means that when he comes home he needs to take his bike around the back of the house and lock it so it will be safe. When he chooses to ignore that rule by dropping his bike on the driveway or lawn, he loses the right to drive it. So he cannot have access to it for 24 hours and then he can try again.
The point is that punishment is something we, the parents, lay on in the hopes kids will learn from discomfort. Discipline is a teaching tool so that the consequence is directly related to the misbehaviour.
In this case, Justin soon learns that if he wants to have access to his bike there are rules and responsibilities associated with that right.
. Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home.
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