Punishment is outdated…or is it?

Punishment is outdated…or is it it? How faith-based families discipline their children

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

One of the most frequently used methods of parenting is spanking. Shocking? Yes, but parenting polls continue to report that parents “fall back” to old habits of when they where parented. In the past, American society advocated for parents to spank their children. A sign of good parenting used to be if you spanked your disobedient child or not. Today, the American attitude is just the opposite. If a parent spanks their child, they are considered abusive and threatened to be reported to the authorities.

The reason for this shift in parenting methods is obvious: Too many parents spank out of anger and hurt their children. There is another reason for not spanking that is a lot more reasonable: it isn’t effective and there are so many other parenting tools that can be used. Long-term, negative outcomes of spanking is delinquency, substance abuse, and psychological problems.

Punishment and Discipline is not the same thing. Punishment refers to threatening, hitting, or using harsh treatment that might include prolonged isolation, humiliation and shaming behaviors. Discipline is about teaching or guiding children in the right direction so that they can be responsible people.

Christian parents use the verse, from the Bible, that “whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24. This verse has nothing to do with hitting children. It is all about guiding children and being a moral leader and example to them.

Another verse states: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4. Parents that use punishment do not produce children who feel happy and confident. It teaches them to be sneakier and models force as an answer to problems.

If parents today really thought about their own upbringing, they would remember that spanking didn’t help them. Many would tell stories that were terrifying and painful, emotionally and physically. Why use that method to parents our own children? Better to find tools that work.

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The Key to Cooperation is NOT What You Think It is…

Science backs up we have always known about human relationships: Attachment is the key to connection. Connection increases the likelihood of cooperation from family members. It doesn’t guarantee it. Nothing guarantees it. Not even threats or punishments.

People who have a heart to heart connection want to please one another. They think about others first and can literally feel pain if they hurt or disappoint others. This does not happen when there is no connection or it is weakened.

Somehow parents got the idea that compliance was the goal of parenting. We want obedience because we want to protect our children and teach them about life. This has moved from center to focus on children doing what we tell them to do because we said so! Discipline has become punishment and parents idea of self-worth has been tethered to children’s behavior. It is time to re-focus on connection and not compliance.

Caution: Don’t read this next section if you don’t like God! 

The simplest way to a child’s heart is to pray with them. That’s right if you pray for your child both you and your child have to open that rusty door of your heart and a connection can be made.

Rene Brown, in her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” explains this well: “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.”

When I interview Christian parents about how often they pray for a family, the answer is rarely or never. Why, when this is a basic tool of the Christian home? I believe it is fear and mistrust that builds up over time and the lie of compliance as the goal of parenting takes over the home.

Try asking your child what he or she wants prayer for before they go off to school. In order for them to tell you, they have to risk opening up their heart to do so. If you honor that gift of insight and pray for them, you can follow up at the end of the day on how things turned out. This can lead to more prayer together and more intimacy in the relationship. Connection struggles solved!

If your child doesn’t trust you to tell you what they want prayer for, tell them you will pray for them anyway and speak into them what you already know about their challenges with friends and math assignments and sibling conflicts. Don’t use this to control. Genuinely express your desire for their success and wellness. You will be rewarded with a stronger attachment and greater cooperation.