I am going to be referring back to principles contained in this post in upcoming posts so it is important that if you are going to follow this series on parenting that you understand the concepts contained here.
When we think of discipline we often think of punishment for doing the wrong thing. That is only one side of the coin. The other side of discipline is giving reward or reinforcement for doing the right thing. My working definition of discipline is
A sequence of positive rewards and negative punishments administered to
increase desirable behaviors and to decrease undesirable behaviors.
Punishment teaches children what is wrong and what not to do the next time. It discourages inappropriate behavior. Parents often find themselves saying “Stop doing that.” “Don’t touch that.” “You better not go in your brother’s room.” Okay, now they know what they are not supposed to do. That is half of disciplining a child. The other half of discipline informs a child of what is appropriate and gives them positive feedback or reward for appropriate behaviors in order to encourage those behaviors to happen more often.
One problem is a lot of parents give non-specific (what some called “unlabeled”) praise. These are praises like “thank you” or “good job.” This often leaves younger children wondering which part of what they did was right. A better way of giving praise is more specific (what is called “labeled”) praises. These tell the child exactly what the parent liked about the child’s behavior. These are statements like, “Thank you for using your inside voice” or “I like it when you sit on the couch like a big boy.” Discipline works best when rewards and punishments work together to teach a child what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. I am going to spend more time on positive reinforcement and negative punishment in an upcoming post. I am just trying to lay down some basics here.
Proverbs 22:6 – “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” We have often interpreted that verse to mean that we must punish children for the wrong things they do in order to discipline them. Notice that verse says we are to train our children in the way they should go. Punishment shows them the way not to go. If we want to train our children to grow into a healthy maturity level they need both sides of the discipline equation – rewards for appropriate behavior and punishments for inappropriate behavior. More on that in future posts.
Part 2 – Understanding Functional Behavior