Are you having a difficult time managing your children? Do you often resort to punishing your children versus disciplining them? If so you’re not alone. Many parents are unsure on what type of an approach to take when managing their children and often end up punishing them. To help understand what common mistakes parents make when disciplining their children and how parents can discipline their children without punishing them, I have interviewed psychologist Ellie Zarrabian, Ph.D.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“My name is Dr. Ellie Zarrabian. I am a Transpersonal or a spiritually oriented psychologist, a shamanic healer, a body worker and meditation teacher. I’ve also been a faculty member at Santa Monica College in the psychology department since 2002.”
What are common mistakes parents make when disciplining their children?
“First I want to begin by saying that this topic which will be presented as a talk in November and now an interview, hits very close to home for me because I am both a professional in the field of psychology and also a full time mother of two toddlers. So what I write and talk about comes not only from knowledge but also from direct experience. I personally know about the pitfalls of parenting and how easy it is to get into the mindset of “I am not doing it right,” or that “I should be a better parent.” So I want to caution parents reading this interview today that if you are reading this, you are already a very sensible and sensitive parent. So go easy with the self-criticism. The aim of this article is not to focus on what you are doing “wrong” but rather, on how you can incorporate more tools into what you are already doing that is right and refining some of the areas that could use some help.”
“I think the most common oversight (I wouldn’t even call it mistake), is that parents may not know the difference between discipline and punishment, but there is a distinct difference between the two. The word discipline comes from the word “disciple” meaning “one who learns.” So in essence when you are disciplining, you are being a teacher and conveying information to your student or disciple. In our case, the parent is the teacher and the child is the student. Punishment on the other hand, is a very different concept. The definition of punishment is to decrease, diminish or extinguish the likelihood of an act or behavior from reoccurring.”
“When we discipline a child, we are involving the child in an act of learning, so the process is very active and engaging. In such a case, the child is addressed one on one (preferably at their eye level), and there is room for participation in the conversation because there is an explanation that takes place with questions and responses given. An example of disciplining a child who may inadvertently push or hit another child because he or she has a toy the child wants is turning to the child by kneeling down at their eye level (to create a more friendly interaction rather than standing and overpowering them) and saying something to the effect of, “Jessie, we don’t hit. We use our words. Hitting hurts and we don’t want to hurt people. Instead, if you want the toy Alex is using, say ‘˜may I have it after you’re done?'” As you can see, short sentences are used with small children. You don’t need to give lengthy explanations. Keep is short and simple. But do remember that this process may need to be modeled and repeated with children for a long time or until they get it. It’s a huge learning curve for young children to understand the concept of not grabbing, waiting to take turns and sharing. So be patient about repeating yourself in this manner for a while.”
“Punishment on the other hand does not engage the child. It is a very passive but a “power over” process that is simply applied to change their behavior. So a typical punishment for a child hitting another child is to tell them off, or give them a time out, or in some cases yell or spank the child. But all the research with children is now showing us that punishment, while may have a short-term effect has very negative long-term effects. First of all, when a child (5 and under) does something that is inappropriate, they may not know that it was inappropriate. We assume that they should know. Then when we go over and punish them, we assume that they know what they are being punished for. But what we know now is that often children who are punished don’t know why they are being punished. All they remember is that they were doing something and all of a sudden their parent is angry or that they are getting a time out, or a talking to about being a bad boy or girl. Also, with punishment there is no opportunity for learning to occur. So the child does not learn what to do next time he/she is caught in a similar situation.”
“As an aside, time outs are now considered obsolete too. We used to think that they are harmless and that they a more gentle or humanistic way of punishing a child. We now know that is wrong. Time outs are considered micro-aggressions against children, which are considered as harmful as psychological and/or emotional punishment. They do not help the child learn or understand the situation but instead leaves the child with feelings of abandonment or isolation from their peers or from their family. Such feelings can lead to the child harboring feelings of anger and resentment.”
What type of impact do those mistakes have on the parent child relationship?
“Another aspect of punishment is that it instills two emotions in the child; either fear or anger. With punishment the child learns to either fear the adult or to have anger towards the adult. Later on, as they child becomes older; these emotions can become rather destructive. The child either learns to become passive and cower away from conflict or to become aggressive and deal with conflict through aggressive behavior. This impacts how they interact with their parents as well as other significant people in their future.
“You can do a little exercise on yourself right now. When you think of the image of a highway patrol officer on a motorcycle, does that image arouse feelings of anger or fear in you? How we were treated as children carries over to our adulthood and we transfer these feelings to authority figures around us with similar reactions. On the other hand, if we were raised in an environment where there was discipline rather than punishment, then the image of a police officer would probably be neutral for us.”
What are some things a parent can do to discipline their children instead of punishing them?
“I gave an example earlier of how a parent can discipline a child who does something inappropriate. Few other ways parents can apply discipline over punishment is the following:
1. “Take look at your parenting style. Ideally, you want to be an authoritarian parent which is firm but loving. To find out which style of parenting you exercise take a look into your own childhood. Chances are you are either like your parent (authoritative-do as I say and don’t question me) or the opposite (permissive-whatever you want to do is fine honey, I won’t get in your way).
2. “It takes time and practice to develop a good parenting style, be patient, read books about it and even consider therapy for yourself to be coached along the way.”
3. “Try and not make the child responsible for your feelings. For example, instead of saying, “you make me so frustrated,” or “look at what you made me do” place the responsibility on yourself by saying, “I’m feeling frustrated right now,” or “I just messed up because I’m feeling pretty tired.””
4. “If ever you feel like you are about to yell or scream at your child (and believe me, I know that feeling very well), stop! Just turn around and leave the room. Go outside for a few minutes and breathe. By then your children will have stopped whatever they were doing and will be running after you trying to figure out what happened to you and why you left the room. At that time, you can turn to them and say, “Mommy/daddy was feeling upset and needed to get some air.” Don’t be afraid of having conversations about feelings with your children.”
5. “If you are tired and exhausted and don’t want to deal with your child, don’t be afraid to ask others for help. At our lowest, we are the most vulnerable. Model self-care for your child by getting help and taking time out for R & R.”
What type of professional help is available for a parent who has a difficult time disciplining their children?
“Every generation has their difficulty with raising kids. Parenting is not an easy job and no one has it down perfectly. We are always learning more and coming up with different information about child rearing. Thank goodness our children give us plenty of chances to get it right. At the same time, what parents can do is to educate themselves by taking parenting classes, joining parenting or support groups on ground and on the internet, attending lectures like the one I am giving on the Peaceful Parenting Series, and getting help from a professional on how to manage their own emotions.”
Thank you Dr. Zarrabian for doing the interview on how to discipline children without punishing them. For more information on Dr. Zarrabian or her work you can check out her website on www.centeronpeace.com.
Before Dating, Single Moms Should Embrace a Spiritual Outlook
How to Manage Your Anger with Your Child
How to Stop a Temper Tantrum