Shortly after you discover your child has made a poor decision or done something wrong you have to decide whether or not to administer punishment. One of the reasons this can be such a difficult decision is because you have many emotions and questions in your head at the time.
- Where did I go wrong?
- How could she do this?
- Why didn’t I see this coming?
- She is too young for this.
With so many emotions happening at once, it can be difficult to make rational decisions regarding punishment. When you’re angry it’s tempting to throw out harsh and heavy punishment. When you’re feeling sadness and disappointment you may tend to go light on punishment or withhold it altogether. How do you set those emotions aside and make a decision regarding punishment?
While raising 5 kids, my husband and I have developed some guidelines regarding disciplining our children. These are not necessarily hard-and-fast rules, but they are useful points to consider when deciding whether or not to punish a child.
When Not to Discipline
Children are imperfect people just like you and me. Here are some reasons to consider for not punishing a child.
- Made a mistake – No one is perfect and mistakes will happen. If an action is determined to be an honest mistake, don’t punish it.
- Fist time offense – There are definitely times we punish our children on a first offense. However, there are also times we use the offense as an example instead. We might say, “Remember when we talked about this?” and gauge the response of the child. If they already feel some remorse and it wasn’t a serious problem, we will offer a second chance with the understanding that no mercy will be given on a repeat offense.
- Rules were not understood – When you learn that the child truly did not understand the rules that is a time for clarification and discussion. Punishment may or may not be necessary.
- Already showing great remorse – Sometimes your child might already show such remorse that no punishment is needed to correct the behavior. You know your child better than anyone else, only you can decide when to forego punishment for this reason.
When to Discipline
There are times that a child absolutely needs to be punished. Here are some reasons we choose to administer punishment.
- Willful disobedience – When rules were understood and a decision was made to not follow the rules, punishment needs to happen. A bad decision needs to have consequences.
- Defiance – When a child does something just to defy your authority, you must address it. A defiant act is often in response to anger or resisting authority, and children need to be taught how to properly deal with anger and respect authority.
- Lying or Withholding the truth – Make sure your child understands that lying can take many forms. Withholding the truth, deceiving, hiding something, exaggerating, making up something are all lying. This is a serious offense in our household, and our kids know punishment will be twice as severe when lying is involved.
- Shows no remorse – No remorse usually means the child truly thinks she did nothing wrong. In addition to punishment, you also need to learn why there is no remorse. Punishment alone usually won’t solve this response.
- Repeat offense – Sometimes it will take more than one lesson to learn the correct behavior. There are times children will make the same bad choice over and over. In these cases it may be necessary to increase the punishment. Explain that punishment will continue to happen until the child makes the correct decision.
- Disrespect – Talking back, mumbling under your breath, rolling your eyes, yelling, hitting, talking bad about a parent…all of these are signs of disrespect. If you want your kids to be respectful of others, you must first teach them to respect you as a parent. Respect must be taught, it will not happen on it’s own.
When to Extend Grace
There will be times your child deserves punishment and you choose not to punish them. That is called extending grace. Extending grace to children teaches them to extend grace to others. However, doing it too often can encourage negative behavior. When you choose to extend grace instead of punishment, be sure to talk with the child and explain why you are extending grace. Say something like, “Because you knew what you were doing was wrong, I should punish you. But since you seem sorry I’m going to extend some grace to you. There will be no punishment this time. If it happens again, punishment will happen.”
Most of the time the response of a child is gratefulness and love. I have gotten some of the biggest hugs and tears of true remorse from my children after extending grace. These can be precious bonding and teaching moments. Take them as often as you can.
These When to Discipline and When Not to Discipline lists are not exclusive. One thing I have learned by having 5 kids is that they are all different. It is so important to treat your children as individuals.
Do you have something to add to my list? I would love to hear about how discipline works for your family. Perhaps we can learn together.
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