Why Some Parents Don't Discipline Their Children

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Everyone agrees that as parents we must take responsibility for teaching our children right from wrong and cultivate good behavior.  However, there are several reasons that make many parents "discipline-shy."  Many of these reasons are based on an incorrect and insufficient understanding of disciplining methods.  Such parents may have little knowledge of positive disciplining methods.   They may be overfocused on the negative and punishing methods of disciplining.   The good news is that now there are many effective and humane methods to foster appropriate behaviors as well as for eliminating the inappropriate ones.  So, what prevents some parents from using these important tools of healthy child-growth?  Some of the reasons offered by discipline-shy parents are as follows: 

"If I discipline my children, they will stop loving me."   "I am afraid I will get so angry, I'll lose control."  

"They (relatives, friends)will think I am a bad parent."  "It's hopeless.  No matter what I do, my child won't listen.  

He/she isn't ever going to change."  

"Right now, I am too tired, I have no energy for this kind of thing (for disciplining)."   

(In the case of a divorced parent) "If I discipline my children and their father (or mother)doesn't, why would they want to be with me?  They will just go to the other parent where they can do anything they want to and no one to stop them or punish them."   

 "I am up to here with my own problems.  I can't handle this (the tension resulting from disciplining).   

"I am the one who is responsible for my child's problem (or the other parent is the one who is responsible), so why should I discipline this poor child."  

"I feel sorry for my child.  He/she has gone through a lot.  I shouldn't be hard on my child."  

"If I discipline my children, they'll grow up into vicious and violent adults and hate me for being so hard on them."   

 All above stated fears are groundless and usually based on an incorrect, highly narrowed, and limited concept of discipline.  For many parents discipline simply means, spanking or  "whooping," as we say in this part of the country.  The most commonly used disciplining methods are spanking and scolding.  The latter often assumes the form of full-throated yelling and shouting in anger and frustration.  .  The third most commonly used method by parents is grounding.     

  When parents find that their disciplining method is not working, the natural and logical step that parents take is to escalate their particular disciplining technique.  So, for example, if two smacks (or slaps) didn't prevent a behavior from occurring, they may smack harder, twice or more.  Likewise, their yelling gets increasingly louder and they ground children for increasingly greater lengths.  

 One parent of two teen-age kids told me, "Nothing works with these kids.   Grounding used to work at one time, but doesn't work any more."   I asked the parent more about the grounding.   I came to learn that last time, the parent had grounded the kids for one month.  I screamed in my head, "What?  You grounded your two teen-age kids for one month!  What choice were you leaving for your kids, but to violate the grounding sanction blatantly or, cheat behind your back?"  

 We human beings are strange creatures.  When we see that something doesn't work, we do it more, hoping that more of the same might produce better results.   Escalation of punishment is not necessarily an effective way for correcting a child's behavior.  Consistency, predictability, judicious administration of a disciplining method may hold the key to the success and failure of a measure taken by parents.  Analyze why a disciplining method stopped working.   Don't discipline hard, just discipline smart.

 Parents after completion of a parent training workshop or after participation in parent counseling are excited and enthusiastic about behavior modification techniques.  They try a newly learned technique.  It works well for some time and then it stops working.  Often, the reason is that even the best of the behavior modification techniques are "corrupted" as the time passes. Sometimes parents may give in and let children have their way because they feel guilty of denying their child of privileges for too long.  They may have gotten tired of investing their energy in following a technique.  Parents may stop using a technique prematurely before the new behavior becomes a habit. Let's face it, giving in to your child's whining or begging is a lot easier than to hold on to your ground.  We all are guilty of doing that one time or the other and say it to ourselves, "all right.  Take it.  Just shut up and leave me alone."                 

 We tend to think of disciplining as something that is harsh and severe.  There are many behavioral methods that are humane and effective.  These methods are proven to increase positive behaviors and decrease inappropriate behaviors.  discipline does not equal corporal punishment.  Parents who want to avoid physical punishment have quite a repertoire to choose from.  In the following article, I will discuss these techniques in detail.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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