Written By: Robert R. Cassman, LPCC
While punishment is simply one component of parenting, it is an important one. A child is more likely to learn if three components to discipline are involved.
- Swift- The punishment (discipline) needs to occur swiftly after the misbehavior. The sooner the punishment, the more likely the child will associate it with his misbehavior. If a child receives a punishment two weeks after a misbehavior, he may not even remember why he’s being punished! The younger the child is, the sooner the punishment needs to follow his misbehavior. Some children, when asked “now tell mommy why you were put in timeout” can’t even remember. The swiftness of the punishment should be appropriate to the age of the child. In general, however, the more immediate the punishment, the more effective.
- Severe- The punishment needs to be severe enough to be effective. I do not mean physically severe. “Severity” can be in the duration of the punishment. Instead of taking a teen’s cell phone for one hour, take it for one day, or one week. I’ve encounter so many parents who are frustrated when sending their teen to her room doesn’t work. I then find out the room has a tv, the internet, a phone etc… that’s not much of a severe punishment! As adults, we are more likely to speed while driving, partly because the potential punishment isn’t all that severe. But how many of us would speed if the punishment was two years in jail? The more severe, the more effective.
- Sure- The more certain the punishment is the more effective it is. If the child knows he will get punished for doing a certain behavior, he is less likely to do it. But if he thinks he can get away with it, he is more likely to risk the behavior. Think of the speeding ticket again. If we got punished 100% of the time, we wouldn’t speed as often. But because most of the time speeders get away with it, they are more likely to do it. Parents who only occasionally punish will experience more frustration as a result. If you tell your child he will be punished for breaking a rule, then make sure you follow through. Certainty is the most important aspect of discipline.
Remember that punishment is simply one aspect of parenting. It may help to think ahead of what a punishment would be for a particular child. When the child then misbehaves, the punishment can be implemented. A good punishment, whatever it is, will be swift, severe, and sure.