The word discipline comes from a Greek word, which means ‘to train’. Discipline and punishment are not synonymous. Punishment is but one form of discipline and one that, if a child’s love tank is full, is seldom required. Discipline is a type of love and the more a child feels loved, the easier he is to train.
First, it’s important to understand that children love in a self-oriented fashion, meaning they know what they need to feel loved, but they don’t know, or necessarily care, what others need. They also test our love continuously with their behavior. To discipline a child with love, one needs to figure out what the child needs when he misbehaves as opposed to trying to correct the behavior. The latter often leads to thoughtless punishment.
A child who misbehaves has a need for something. Knowing his primary love language allows you to know how to address his need, whatever it may be. The first and most common cause of misbehavior is an empty love tank. The second is physical pain or discomfort of some kind, which could include hunger, thirst, tiredness, or feeling unwell.
If a child feels remorse for something he’s done, there’s no need to proceed any further, other than to discuss it and then forgive him. Punishing a child for something he already feels guilty about hinders his ability to develop a good conscience and produces anger and resentment.
Here are 5 methods that can be used to effectively discipline with love. Notice that two of these are positive methods of discipline, two are negative and one is neutral. Always use these methods in order and stop when the desired effect has occurred.
1. Make a Request. This sends 3 important, nonverbal messages to the child:
- That you respect his feelings;
- That you realize he has a brain and is able to form opinions; and
- That you expect him to take responsibility for his own behavior.
2. Issue a command when making a request fails. Issuing commands are more effective when used infrequently and not as the main method of controlling behavior.
3. Gentle physical manipulation is especially effective with young children who often do things that are not necessarily wrong but not to your preference. For example, be careful not to confuse ‘negativism’ with defiance. When a 2-year-old says “No!” he is demonstrating a normal stage of development, where he begins to separate psychologically from his parents. If you make a request and he says “No”, move to a command. If he still says “No”, you might be inclined to punish him, but instead gently guide him to what you need him to do. If he resists, it’s defiance, so act accordingly. But, most often the child will just go along with your gentle physical manipulation. He was just practicing his independence.
4. Punishment is the most negative way of training a child, and the most difficult for the following reasons:
- The punishment must fit the crime since children have such a strong sense of fairness;
- The punishment has to be appropriate for each particular child;
- Punishment is often administered inconsistently according to the punisher’s mood at the time. When you’re feeling good, you tend to be more lenient than when you’ve had a bad day; and
- Punishment when used as a primary means of discipline provokes needless anger, and causes the child to develop passive-aggressive attitudes and behaviors.
If you have to punish the child, give her a conscious expression of love in her primary language before and after administering the punishment.
5. If the child shows no remorse for his behavior, the next step would be Behavior Modification. It utilizes three components:
- Positive reinforcement (giving a reward for good behavior);
- Negative reinforcement (taking something away); and
- Punishment (ie. removing the child/isolation).
Behavior modification is best used only for recurring specific problems for which a child shows no remorse. Overuse causes a feeling of being unloved because behavior modification is completely based on conditions. This results in a ‘I have to give to get’ attitude and teaches the child how to manipulate authority figures.
In order to respect a child’s love language and discipline (train) with love, do not select their love language as a method of discipline. For instance, if you use condemning words with a child whose love language is words of affirmation, your words will communicate not only that you are displeased with the behavior, but also that you do not love the child. If the love language is quality time, do not use isolation as a form of punishment. If it’s physical touch, don’t withhold hugs or respond in a physically negative way. Imagine what a spanking would say to this child! Understanding the child’s primary love language allows you to discipline with love and makes any discipline one has to do far more effective.
Source: The Five Love Languages for Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. ISBN 1-881273-65-2.