The Difference Between Enforcing Boundaries and Inflicting Punishment

A long conversation the other night brought me to the realization that what it all boils down to, at least in the discipline arena, is structures and strictures.

It occurred to me last night as I pulled two of my children out of the bubble bath after they had splashed bubbles and water all over the bathroom, that there's a difference between enforcing boundaries and inflicting punishment. Unfortunately last night, I lost my cool and yelled, "Get OUT!" before I lifted their slippery little foam covered carcasses out of the tub!

Removing them from the tub was enforcing a boundary. Causing them pain by yelling at them was punishment.

Of course, boundaries, or strictures, are necessary to healthy living for all sorts of reasons. Without them we would have total chaos. Many times it is necessary for us to remind our children of the established boundaries, and gather them back within those boundaries when they have strayed. I guess the manner in which we do that makes all the difference.

Escorting a child who is flinging food at the table into a private place where he can settle down and realize what work he's causing his mother, or vent whatever hard feelings are inducing him to behave in such an uncivilized way is enforcing boundaries. I think making him write a 1000 word essay on ingratitude or food shortages in Africa is punishment.

When the Good Shepherd went in search of His lost sheep and found him outside the "boundaries," rejoicing He brought him back to the fold--He didn't beat him with His rod first!

Neufeld talks about creating structures and strictures. He says that just as alcohol would be barred from the home if a family member had a drinking problem, the television would be disconnected if the limits you imposed were being ignored.

Well-attached children are more inclined to stay within the boundaries their parents have erected, provided those boundaries are not unreasonably limiting. Each family has to figure out for itself what the boundaries are for each individual in the family and for the family as a whole. What I've gathered so far (mainly from his treatment of the emergent, adaptive and integrative processes) is that it's good to keep in mind that boundaries that are too restrictive aren't always in the best interest of the child or the parent/child relationship.

I think structures are the fun part. I've been trying to add more structures as we go along trying to strengthen and preserve these ties that empower us. Of course, there are some structures already in place, for example, we have always made the family evening meal a part of the fabric of our family life. It's very important and many people contribute to the event every day. Recommending meal suggestions, assisting in the preparation, setting the table, etc. are all a joint effort. Afterward we clear the table, load the dishwasher, put away the left-overs, take care of littles, etc. again as a collective effort.

The family Rosary is another one, although we haven't always been able to accomplish this. For the entire 17 years of our marriage we have been trying to make this a part of our daily routine, but it wasn't until we completed our first 54 Day Rosary Novena that we discovered HOW to make this structure stick. As a family we choose a very important intention. It could be the conversion of a wayward family member, or for a particular priest, or an end to abortion or the war--something we all take very seriously. This is our motivation to keep up the prayers for at least 54 days. Well, after 54 days it sort of becomes a habit! We're on our 4th 54 Day Rosary Novena and, please God and our Blessed Mother, I can't see any end in sight.

One other structure we have been working at erecting is daily family read-aloud time. (I'm ashamed to admit it but this has not always been a part of our daily life. I used to try to incorporate it, but, in hindsight, I realize that my children's attachments were insecure enough to cause them to feel that this time might be the only time all day when they could be close to me and they were all willing to fight to the death to sit next to mom! I'm hopeful that they're now feeling secure enough for story times to be more happy) After reading Cay Gibson's book, and Jim Trelease's book, as well as so many articles and entire chapters in books, I can't emphasize enough how important this structure is to me and how determined I am to make it as much a part of our daily routine as is breakfast, lunch and dinner!

I'd also like to make it a habit to take at least monthly field trips. I thought if we tied these to birthdays it might be easier to accomplish.

I recently finished reading Sidney Craig's book, Raising Your Child NOT BY FORCE BUT BY LOVE (I highly recommend it right along side HOTYK. Where HOTYK shows parents the negative consequences of certain of our actions towards our children, Raising Your Child helps parents get their hearts in the right place so that we can begin to modify our own behavior toward our children in order to bring out the best in all of us. I have a new post on the blog about what he has to say about discipline. The other book I'd recommend is Parent Effectiveness Training. If we are to change our old habits, we need to replace them with new ones. This book teaches parents just what those new habits should be.) I found this excerpt from Dr. Craig's book to be very enlightening regarding the subject of fun family outings:

"Often parents become both confused and irritated because, in their own minds at least, they are convinced that they have not defined the parental role too narrowly, and yet they have experienced disappointing results with their children in later years. Such parents insist, for example, that they did more than merely teach the child right from wrong. In addition , they tried to make him happy by spending time with him in activities such as scouting and by taking him to places children enjoy. In spite of this however, the parents discover that their child became emotionally disturbed in some way, or even delinquent.
The common error in parental thinking on this matter consisists in the parents' believing that their engaging in child-centered activities is in itself enough to demonstrate their love and to create warm feelings in the child. Undoubtedly engaging in such activities with children helps. However, there is always a great deal of seemingly minor and peripheral interaction occurring that the parent tends to overlook.
Consider a planned trip to Disneyland, for example. To what extent are parents usually aware of the potential impact on the child's feelings of parental actions (1) prior to the trip, (2) while at the amusement park, and (3) in the car on the way home. How many times during the week preceding the trip was the child warned that if he didn't 'straighten up,' he wasn't going to get to Disneyland. How much 'mileage' did the parents get out of the anticipated trip to ensure that the child performed better than he did usually: for example, in doing his chores. On the morning of the trip to the park, how many dirty looks did the child receive for such actions as getting out of bed too slowly, failing to clean up his room, failing to wash or to comb his hair thoroughly, failing to feed the dog, fighting with a sibling over who was going to sit next to the window in the car. Later, at the park, how much scolding did the child receive for running ahead too fast or lagging too far behind, for asking for too much money for 'junk,' or wanting to go on 'just one more ride,' for whining and complaining, or for being thirsty and having to go to the bathroom too many times? And still later, in the car, on the way home when everyone was tired and irritable, how many reprimands, threats of punishment ('I'll never take you to Disneyland again as long as I live!'), and actual punishments did the child receive for losing his balloon, being ungrateful, fighting with his siblings, etc.?
Many years after this day at Disneyland very likely there will exist a difference in perception as to what kind of day it had been and what it had added to or subtracted from the feelings of closeness between the parent and the child. The father will remember with a feeling of pride and satisfaction how much he had tried to be a good father, He had taken the child to the amusement park on a very hot day, spent time with his child, and been generous. The father now hopes that the child's feelings about that day will be shaped by these three aspects of the father's actions.
Unfortunately, however, the child will remember, and his feeling will be affected by more than the father intended or would want. The child will have imprinted somewhere inside his nervous system everything that passed between the parents and himself that day and the days preceding. Everything will have had some impact--the reprimands, the lectures, the threats, and the administration of punishment.
Years later, if the son should come to feel that his father had been 'mean' to him, the father would not know why. The father would find it astonishing that the child would forget such happy experiences as the wonderful trip to Disneyland and all the money that had been spent on him. The father would conclude erroneously that children have poor memories or that they are inherently ungrateful. In reality, the difference between the parents' and the child's perception occurs not because the child recalls less than had happened but because he recalls more of what happened."

It's not enough to have structures, including doing fun things together as a family. Meal time needs to be as low-stress and enjoyable as possible. Family prayer time, or story time, birthday parties, etc. have to be infused with joyfulness and loving acceptance of the individuals involved. I'm realizing so much I never even thought about before. I said at the beginning of this post that what it all boils down to with regard to discipline is structures and boundaries, but I guess it also has to include loving feelings and fond memories otherwise the structures and strictures are preceived by our kids as just more manipulation on our part.

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Catholic Attachment Parenting

A philosophy of parenting modeled after the self-donative love exemplified in the relationship between Mary and Jesus.

1 Jn 4:18

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love."

Luke 1:17

" turn the hearts of the parents toward their children..."