Seven Principles for Effective Discipline

Raising our children by love, rather than force, is the objective every attachment parents aspires to. But there are many times when this goal seems much easier said than done. I was delighted to discover that Sidney Craig's book, Raising Your Child, NOT BY FORCE BUT BY LOVE, which is referenced in Dr. Sears' books, uses the basic Judeo-Christian principles on which our country was founded, to prove that attachment parenting values are not new, but have been in practice for at least two millennia!

It's important, however, as one reads Dr. Craig's book, published in the early 1970's, to remember that Attachment Theory, pioneered by John Bowlby, was only beginning to be understood in the late 1950's, AND that scientific research into the physiological necessity of tears and tantrums did not surface until the 1980's. Keeping this in mind, one can safely apply Dr. Craig's principles for effective discipline to today's child, who is growing up in a pandemically peer oriented culture where parents have very little margin for error.

These seven principles are not dissimilar to Dr. Neufeld's "Seven Principles of Natural Discipline," which is describes in Chapter 16 of Hold On To Your Kids, but vary enough to lend themselves to a better understanding of what conscientious parents are called upon to do in order to raise well-disciplined children AND preserve life-long relationships with them.Dr. Craig uses the word "punishment" when talking about discipline, but those who take the time to read his whole book will realize that what he's referring to is simply the parents' gentle, loving expression of their disapproval for a child's unacceptable actions.

The first principle, according to Dr. Craig, is to avoid the use of disapproval, scolding, threats, etc. whenever it is reasonably possible to do so. A well-attached child is "punished" enough by sensing his parents' disappointment in his actions. This acknowledgment is usually easily read in the child's body language: drooped shoulders, downcast eyes, bowed head. This is the point at which Parent Effectiveness Training comes in very handy. Explaining to the child that 1) what he did (“When you hit your brother…”), 2) made you/someone feel angry, worried, scared, etc. (“I feel sad…”), 3) because of a particular set of reasons (“because I love you and I don’t like to see you hurting one another.”), is usually enough to elicit the necessary feelings of remorse in the child to motivate him to at least want to change his behavior on his own.

Dr. Craig continues, "When it becomes necessary to punish [disapprove], make the punishment as mild as is reasonably possible. Use it primarily for its symbolic value rather than for the supposedly 'therapeutic' value of pain itself." The idea is to convey to the child your feelings without arousing hurt or angry feelings in him. The way we convey our disapproval is the symbol he's referring to. If we use facial expressions, body language, a snap, "whoah!," whatever, the value of the symbol should show our disapproval as mildly as is necessary in any given situation.

Next, parents should anticipate the consequences of their own actions well into the future life of the child. Feelings influence behavior. If our actions stir up negative feelings on our child, he will be more likely to behave negatively. Our actions can bring out the best or the worst in him. When we get into a cycle of negative actions creating negative feelings, which instigate more negative actions, the pressure we feel we must exert in order to rein in the child grows greater and greater, causing the feelings in the child to grow as well. It is a disaster waiting to happen!

Additionally, parents must be careful not to expect more of their children than they are physiologically and psychologically able to perform. A distinction needs to be made between behavior which is necessary for safety, harmony, orderliness, etc., and behavior which would be "nice" to experience. Reserve your disapproval for those actions which you must necessarily disapprove of, bearing in mind that your disappointment may be a result of unrealistically high expectations of your child at his particular developmental level; and script behavior which is "nice" in a way that doesn't embarrass or disrespect the dignity of the child.

Dr. Craig says that parents should "avoid punishing a child for failing to perform routine tasks, such as chores, at levels of efficiency attainable only by mature adults." This includes performing these tasks without being reminded, or not performing them even after being reminded, for reasons of forgetfulness, carelessness, spite, etc. Because of children's immaturity, they are innately unreliable, careless, impulsive, disorganized and incapable of exercising sound judgment. These traits come with maturity, which process can only occur in the securely attached individual. Punishment impedes this process.

When you must express your disapproval, temper your feelings with compassion and understanding. Empathize with your child before explaining to him the unacceptability of his actions. Sometimes this requires that you take a time-out for yourself to let your negative feelings become counterbalanced by feelings of love for your child. When you put yourself in his shoes for a few minutes before engaging him, you are better able to direct him in the manner which is most effective. Sometimes your response may need to consist simply of gathering your child up into your arms, holding him and showing him affection and compassion, just as you would a child suffering from some physical illness. Children who are acting "badly" are usually feeling badly, emotionally unwell or off-kilter.

Finally, don't rush yourself or your child. Acceptable behavior, even necessary behavior, takes time, patience, flexibility, and self-control on your part as well as on the part of your child. "No punishment yet invented has been shown capable of producing instant obedience."

Saints are not made overnight, and the surest way to help our children grow in virtue is to be shining examples of virtue ourselves. The Fruits and Gifts of the Holy Ghost and the grace of the sacraments are at our disposal. The perfect example of motherhood, Our Blessed Mother, is written about in countless books, by countless saints available to us for our benefit from countless book sellers! Daily prayer and meditation on Her life is the best help we can get for ourselves.


May Our Blessed Mother, the perfect model of Virtuous Motherhood, pray for us as we endeavor to become more like Her in every way.

2 comments:

Ruth said...

I love this post!!!!! I really like what you said about our Blessed Mother. She truly is the best example of the perfect model of motherhood.

Michele Quigley said...

Thank you for this very insightful and helpful post. God bless you!

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

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