Punishment is outdated…or is it?

Punishment is outdated…or is it it?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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How to be a Positive Parent


What is Positive Parenting?

Wouldn’t it be nice if children came with an instruction manual? The ways in which we are expected to parent our children today is often different from the way we were parented. Social attitudes have dramatically changed parenting expectations about work and family life, about discipline, about communication, about sibling rivalry, about homework and more. Without sufficient guidelines to help modern-day parents, they are left feeling helpless and frustrated.

To cope with these changes, parents need to adopt more positive parenting techniques. A positive parent provides children with structure and security, with love and limits,and with self-control and self-respect. Raised in this atmosphere, children will develop healthy attitudes about relationships, and they will be more responsible and have a healthier sense of self.

Positive Discipline

Because many parents were raised with punishment, they have a misunderstanding about how to get cooperation and teach respect without yelling, spanking or using time out. Positive parents understand the difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline engages children’s thinking brains and helps children make important choices about what is right and wrong. Punishment uses aggression, isolation and shame to coerce right behavior. Discipline models self-control and respect. Punishment creates fear.

‘Positive discipline’ parents encourage children to find their own solutions to problems while acting as a coach or emotional tutor. These parents act as a model of what they want their own children to be. They avoid “do it because I told you so” or “do what I say, not what I do,” because they know that children who hear this will behave when parents are around but do what they want when they’re alone or with peers.

Positive Parenting Tips

One of the simplest ways to be a positive parent is to offer children choices: “Do you want milk or juice with breakfast?” Two choices are enough! If your child says she wants soda, repeat the choices again. After going a couple of rounds without a choice, step in and make the decision for her. Don’t back down at this point; stand your ground and offer firm limits. Your child will be more ready to make a choice about drinks tomorrow. You can offer a lot of choices to your child throughout the day, so that making decisions becomes natural. After a while, your child will feel empowered about her ability to choose, so that the need for a power struggle decreases. This will help you as a parent to feel more competent about your skills as well.

Another positive parenting tip is to show lots of empathy for a problem your child brings up, such as a teacher who gave him a low test score. Quizzing your child about why he got such a low grade or pointing out that he didn’t study like he had been told to can turn into a fight rather than the chance to problem solve together. Instead, you can say, “You’re very upset about this score. You felt you should have gotten a better one.” Follow this empathetic response up with a positive brainstorming comment such as, “What could you do next time to get a better score?” At first children who hear these responses will defend themselves, but over time they will offer some ideas about the need to study more, prepare better, or perhaps get a tutor. Engaging in problem-solving conversations can help a child learn how to do better in school and life.

Making these positive parenting changes is not easy. Parents will fall back into old, negative patterns. That is just one more opportunity to model change. Be honest about the mistakes. Talk about how you will correct them next time, and let your child witness your transformation.