For years I thought that discipline and punishment were the same thing. Years later I discovered that discipline = guidance = teaching. Discipline ≠ punishment.
I've witnessed several parents engaging in what they believe to be discipline, when, in fact, it borders more on abuse. And I'm not talking about the little spank or pat on the butt parents give children when they run into the street.
I'm talking about parents who pick their kids up by the throats and throw them into walls. I'm talking about parents who scream at their children when talking to them would be less scary.
If we imagined children to be the little people they are, little people who will one day grow up to be big people, and if we can pretend for only a moment that these little people are our grown up friends, we have to ask ourselves, "would we treat our friends this way?"
The most effective form of discipline I've witnessed comes from parents who bend down to eye level with their children, take hold of their hands or put their hands on their children's shoulders, look them directly in the eye, and explain why their behavior is wrong, then ask if they understand.
Another thing parents tend NOT to notice is those times when the children are behaving well. Instead of punishing children for every infraction, instead of screaming at them every time they disappoint you, mention instead every positive action, and reward them EVERY TIME!
If that last statement seems like an impossible task, think about this – do you punish them every time they do something wrong? Change the focus from what they are doing wrong to what they are doing right, get down to eye level and talk to them like you would a friend you want to support, behave this way consistently, and you may discover a child who longs to please you (and him- or herself) – a child who will grow up to be a loving, compassionate, and engaging child – a child who fears no one – a child who believes in him- or herself.
The reward doesn't have to cost anything, except maybe your time. Read them a book, allow them to watch their favorite movie, fix their favorite meal, play their favorite game with them. They will look forward to those rewards and want more of them.
Isn't that the type of child we are all trying to raise anyway? Your child's self-esteem begins when your look tells that child you love him or her unconditionally. Yes, you are sometimes disappointed with their actions, but your children look into your eyes to find out if they are worth loving. Screaming at them and hitting them does not translate to them that you love them.
Children also learn how to love themselves by watching the interaction of their parents. Does Mommy SHOW Daddy she loves him (and vice versa), or do parents treat each other they way they treat their children? For good or bad, children will learn discipline techniques from their parents. And if parents abuse each other, children will decide, based on experience, to treat their future spouses and their future children – your grandchildren – the same way.
By treating each member of our families with respect and love, and by nurturing every relationship within the family, we enable our children to respect and love themselves and others.