Monday, February 24, 2014

Discipline without (a lot) of punishment

Recently, Jenna at Call her Happy asked a question about discipline and Kendra posted her thoughts on discipline.   I really appreciated both of those posts and Kendra's post has a lot of good points, all about creating a family culture and how to love your kids and like them too.   You should read it.

But, of course I can't let the subject of discipline come up without posting my own thoughts, because I find the topic incredibly interesting.  So, you all get this post, instead of the one I was going to do about my changing thoughts on homebirth. I'll save that one for another day, so now you have something to eagerly anticipate reading.

The goal of discipline: Kendra posted about her goal of discipline is to train her kids in what is right and to make them pleasant and happy to be around  That is a great goal, and I definitely agree with it, however I also want to add something a bit more long-term.  My goal is to get my kids into heaven and give them the best chance of chance of growing up and choosing to be good, holy, practicing Catholics.  I'm not *as* concerned with the immediate here and now, although, I want my kids to be pleasant (and they are) and to enjoy being around them (and I do), but the future is more important than the present, because their soul is at stake.  My next goal is to have a good relationship with my future-adult children, because I feel like my relationship with them as adults is just as important as my relationship with them as kids. 

Yes, adults have free will and will choose right from wrong, but I do believe that parenting does play some role. Of course there are no guarantees, and the most perfect parents could raise kids that end up in jail but I do think parenting matters.

I once read that people will view God the way they viewed their father. If the father is absent or cold or harsh or overly strict they will view God that way.  If the father is patient and loving and kind, that is how they will view God.  I think as Catholic parents, we can either drive our children closer to God or further away, depending on how they view their family and home life.  Yes, there is still free will involved and this isn't meant to "blame" anyone who has adult children that have strayed.  Ultimately, our children are their own people and will make their own choices. However, my goal as a parent is to help them make the right choices...not just now, as a child who is under my control, but also when they are adults, and no longer under my control. 

How I was raised:  I was basically raised without a lot of punishment.  I can't ever remember being put into time-out or spanked or grounded or losing privileges or anything like that.  Yet, we were basically good kids.  We weren't wild.  None of us rebelled during the teenage years.  We all got good grades in school....and 3/5 of us graduated in the top 3 our medium-sized high school.  Of my parent's five children, four of us are practicing Catholics as adults (one is even a nun).  So, I think that is a pretty good track record, considering how many people of my generation leave the Catholic church in droves.   And, all five of us have a good relationship with my parents. 

My parents were basically attachment parenters before it was cool.  We were breastfeed until age 2.5-3 and we weren't left to cry it out.   When I lied about being sick in the second grade so I could stay home from school, instead of being punished for lying, I was asked why I so badly didn't want to go to school on Wednesdays (it was the mean lunch ladies). Despite the lack of punishment for that infraction, I did not turn into a pathological liar, I promise.

Yet, my parents did have rules and routines we had to follow.  We weren't allowed free range of the TV...only allowed to watch educational PBS after school and Saturday morning cartoons. We weren't allowed to eat ice cream whenever we wanted.  We were allowed to wear want we wanted as long as it met certain (loose) modesty standards.  We always went to Mass on Sunday and Confession, monthly.  We were expected to do our homework, and we did.  We basically *wanted* to be obedient and good and please them.  Sure, we fought and bickered at got yelled at (but my family is Italian so yelling and arguing is part of our blood :)). 

From the I'm not yelling...I'm Italian...that's how we talk page. 

Off and on my parents would try this system of fining us for infractions, but that was basically dumb and wasn't much of a punishment.

We were taught right from wrong.  We were taught about God and love and somehow we just wanted to please God and our parents and generally be good.   Maybe it was just our personalities.  My parents were super strict in some respects (like when it comes to attending Mass), but not in a we'll punish you if you fight this but rather in a this is what we do way.  The same thing applied to TV and dress and school. We didn't wear certain clothes (like bikinis) and we didn't watch certain shows.   I guess it was part of creating a family culture, like Kendra talks about, although I never thought about it in those terms.  We just did and didn't do certain things because that is what our family does. 

How we parent is basically the same way as how my parents raised me. It worked for me (and most of my siblings) and so far, it's working for my kids.  My kids generally listen, are pleasant to be around, and are fun and creative.  Now, Elsa (17 months) is not always fun to be around, sometimes she is a downright handful, but she is getting better as she gets older. She is (slowly) starting to talk and learning how to communicate better and that is making her a LOT easier to deal with.  Even in her young age, I see a desire to please us, just because she loves us.  

Sure, my kids have had a few minor temper tantrums as toddlers, but nothing epic (we always hold/comfort them through it, which helps).  I can't say that I've ever had a kid throw themselves on the floor, kicking and screaming in the middle of Target.  My kids don't ask for stuff in the store, because they know we won't buy it, or if they ask, they easily accept "no."

We do lots of reminding kids of expectations before we go someplace and usually a stern look or whispered reminder is all we need to keep them in line. 

We have certain routines and expectations built into our day, but we give freedom within boundaries.  Our kids have to do their schoolwork, but they can do it in whatever order they choose.  They (the older 3) are responsible for picking up the entire house, sweeping and clearing/wiping the table every evening, but they frequently negotiate who does what chore.  They have to do these things, before they watch something on Netflix, and there have been times they didn't get their chores done, so they weren't allowed to watch that night before bedtime.

We have certain things which we are strict about (bedtime is at 9:00, no watching without permission) and certain things we are lax about (like eating).

We use natural/logical consequences (as in, you have to do x, before you can do y) but not a lot of punishments (we rarely use time-out, and don't spank or remove privileges unrelated to the infraction).  We do a lot of talking about things and tend to err more on the side of mercy, rather than justice (as my parents did with me- the 2nd grade liar). We will use natural consequences and occasionally logical consequences, but even those we don't use that much.  For the most part, our kids DO listen and obey. 

I once heard someone share a story of unjust punishment.  This person was spanked and punished for disrespect because their mother thought the person was sticking their tongue out in a show of disrespect, but really they were just licking their dry lips.  This obviously made a strong, negative impression on this person. (For what it's worth, the adult children in that family do not all have a good relationship with their mother).  I feel like that kind of thing can very damaging to the parent/child relationship.  We strive to teach our children right from wrong (and when it comes to disrespect, simply telling my children that something is disrespectful and against the 4th Commandment is enough to get them to stop and repent.  They want to be good, and strive  to be good, so usually all it takes is telling them something is wrong for them to shape up. 

I believe it was the Popcaks who said that they strive the discipline the way the Church disciplines us.  When I go to Confession, my penance is in some way meant to bring me closer to God and others.  It usually involves prayer and sometimes doing something for another.  I've never been told to whip myself with a rope or sprinkle ashes on my food of anything else completely unrelated to the infraction.  Rather, I've been told to pray and help others....things meant to draw me closer to God and to others.  Likewise, when my kids sin or do something wrong, we talk to talk to them to try to bring them closer to us, to each other and to God.  If they fight, sometimes we have them do something nice for their sibling, but usually they do that all on their own. 

I tend to look as discipline as being about freedom within boundaries.  We draw boundaries, but give them freedom within those boundaries (ie. they have to do school, but can choose the order.  They have to clean up, but can choose who does what) and we have certain things part of our family culture that everyone does without complaint because it is just what we do (Sunday Mass, praying, being dressed all the time (we don't let our kids run around naked), not watching Netflix without asking and they just do it because everyone (in our family) does it.  

Obviously, this is easier if you have more kids.  It was only my oldest that I ever had a problem with kicking and screaming when it was time to leave someplace fun.  By the time, my 2nd was old enough to do that, my oldest was old enough to obey and understand and my 2nd and 3rd children have fallen in line, just like ducks in a row. 

Now, maybe I just have good kids who are naturally people-pleasers.  That is very possible, but we haven't really had major discipline problems (so far) and my kids are generally pleasant and fun to be around.  Although one of my children is very strong-willed.   She says things like, "I don't like be told what to do."   When she says that we emphasize with her, becaues really I don't like to be told what to do either.  Some parenting experts say that you have to "break" the will, you have "train" them to obey.  But, really a strong will is a great advantage in this world.  Many of the saints had very strong wills, joining religious orders against their parent's wishes.  In fact, it takes a strong will to be couter cultural and I think strong-willed children are going to be rebels.  The question is....what are they going to rebel against...are they going to rebel against their family and Catholic upbringing?  Or, are they going to rebel against the world, against a society that says sleeping around is good and abortion is okay? My dad always jokes that when we was a teenager in the 60's, he was a rebel.  While everyone else was listening to Rock N Roll, he was listening to Tchaikovsky.   Really, that is the kind of rebels I want my kids to be, the kind that listen to Tchaikovsky, the kind that don't sleep with their boyfriend, the kind that goes against the world to follow Christ.    So, I don't think you want to break the will, I think you want to channel the will into standing up against what is wrong and choosing what is right.

This is what we do, and so far it's working.  I thought I would share, because I love reading about discipline and parenting and philosophy.  There is this push to say that parenting doesn't matter.  But, I think it DOES.  I think it IS important to discuss and talk about these things.  Not to say that a certain philosophy  is the right way or the wrong way because when it really comes down to it, I think it is the intangibles that matter most.  The parent/child relationship....if the child feels loved and accepted and respected and understood and that is something that can't really be defined by a philosophy.  I think people who use more punishments can be wonderful parents if they show their kids love and acceptance, and I think people who practice more "gentle discipline" could be terrible parents if they neglect to teach their kids right from wrong or to provide any boundaries. 

So, really I think that more important than a specific disciplinary method is the day in day out relationship and interaction a parent has with a child.   Apparently, I'm not the only one.  Although,  there are no guarantees that parenting a certain way will produce a certain result, I do think parenting matters.  


  1. I'm usually more of a lurker than a commenter, but I agree with everything in this post. I do think that perhaps your kids are a little more easy going than average, but I'm here to say that these strategies help tremendously with kid that are strong willed too. My oldest is now 18 and was very strong willed as a young child, with our parenting/ discipline very much like yours (extended breastfeeding, almost no punishment and talking talking all the time talking) we went from strangers pointing out his strong will to strangers and friends telling us how "lucky" we were that he was so "easy". Our daughter was generally easier, she is almost 16 now. Our youngest has a strong will that is still with him at 11 years old, but in spite some challenges with him in our family, we still get tons of compliments about his (and all our kids') behavior out in the world. Great post Amelia, I wish more people realized the benefits of this kind of parenting!

    1. Thanks for sharing! It's great to hear experience from someone with older children.

  2. I enjoyed reading both your and Kendra's posts. I'm somewhere in the middle- I cannot imagine raising my boys without timeout in the 2-5 age range (my now 4 year old was a real doozy of a 3 year old ;), but my 6 year old responds well to just talking. He does still occasionally get sent to his room to calm down. I do think though that you hit the nail on the head with the reference to your consistent mass attendance and monthly confession. Those (plus family prayer and devotions) are what really makes for holy parents and holy kids. At least that's what I'm clinging to! :)

    1. Yes, I definitely think that all those things make a difference, but I think they need to be framed into a general family view of self-donative love and understanding and acceptance.

  3. Thanks Amelia. We have the same goals for our kids, of course. :) My husband mentioned the whole getting them to Heaven being the main goal thing when he read my post before I published it. Perhaps I should have made a point of working that in! Thanks for sharing your perspective. I think our families would get on famously.

    1. Yeah..I figured that was probably your goal too. :)

      Yes...I'm sure our families would get on famously!

  4. I really enjoyed your thoughts about not breaking the will, because we *want* our kids to be rebels against the culture of the world. At the same disobedience is not okay with me, and I feel like we still haven't figured out the best way to address it (of course, my son is only 3.5, and maybe he just needs to mature more). I'm so awed when I read about the Martin family (of St. Therese, of course), and how their girls seemed to obey so well, just out of love for the parents.

    1. Disobediance is a tough one. The way we handle diobediance depends a lot on the age and situation. I don't worry about it reallly in very young children who don't have fluent language skills, because if *they* can't talk fluently, I can't really be sure that they understand. With the exception of my second, my kids tend to be somehwat late talkers (my oldest was really late, and still not communicating well at age 4,5)

      With older kids ti depends on the situation and the context, if it was something big (like a breach of trust, they would love whatever we were trusting them with (ie. riding a bike into the street, we would take away the bike until they can use it responsibly

      We still talk about it a lot, because sometime they honestly didn't hear me, or didn't understand, so it really just depends.

      We try to be "slow" to punish and "quick with mercy" because I feel like unjust punishment is very damaging so we want to make sure they "really" deserve it.

  5. You are on the right track dear! God bless you and your family for your faithfulness.

  6. I just found your blog from a comment you made on another Catholic blog I read and the Holy Spirit must have known how much I needed to read this. This has been a long, hellish winter for me and my four little kids. My temper has been getting the best of me and I have been sick over how things have been going in the day to day. I was raised very different. Very strict, very much a "breaking of the spirit" sort of thing. I hated it but it's all I know and I try to do different but felt guilty. I could go on and on. I feel like I just had a great therapy session, for real. I can't thank you enough for writing this. I really, really needed to know that it's going to be O.K. and that I need to worry about their souls, not so much that they didn't make the bed today.

  7. Beautiful post! You know I agree with everything written! :)

  8. And one more thing-I have found that with using "attachment parenting" I avoid many of the issues that require discipline. I can count on one hand the number of temper tantrums my kids (even toddlers) have had..and that's six kids and 19 years!


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