Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Spanking in the Age of Self-esteem and Affirmation...

Scott Clark speaks to the issue of spanking as a valid discipline, helpfully and clearly addressing the growing societal antipathy towards the godly raising of children today:

Don't Wait Until Your Father Gets Home

Thursday, October 20, 2011

To spank or not to spank, that is the question...

[Apologies for my continued absence here at PFB.  I hope to posting again again soon.... 2/24/12

The question inevitably arises, when should a parent spank a child as an appropriate form of discipline? Certainly people can differ on this one. I come down on the side that there is a place for spankings. So, when to spank and why? Well first, I want to say that it is important to keep in mind that spanking can often devolve into the default one-size-fits-all discipline for a child's disobedience And many parents will gravitate to one extreme or another, either spanking too often or avoiding it altogether. Discipline is not just a punishment but should be at the heart a teaching moment, an exercise that is aimed at changing a child's foolish beliefs and goals. Given that parents can too easily fall into the habit of using discipline merely as the tool employed to stop their child's misbehavior, spankings can devolve into the ultimate go-to in order to enforce obedience, which ironically can result in undermining the very purpose of discipline.
OK, just the initial PFB facts:

  • Spanking should be reserved for those acts that involve a child's clear outward defiance of obedience.  If you would, the size of the sin is measured more in terms of attitude and motivation behind the disobedience than just the breaking of a rule.  
  • Spanking should be regarded as a "teaching moment" for the good of your child.  Thus the discipline applied should be characterized by strong conviction rather than strong emotion.  I'm not saying that as parents we have to act as if we're emotionally detached from our child's disobedience.  Rather, understanding that discipline is applied in order to impact and change a child's foolish beliefs and goals of self-centered living, a parent needs be under control in order to take time to explain the particular rule that was disobeyed and why the child's behavior violated that rule.  Once the spanking is applied that is it.  No recriminations are needed.  And it is indeed appropriate and right to comfort your child afterwards.  Don't apologize.  
  • Spanking is an event to be received by the child.  It's not an impulsive act, i.e. not an emotional time to lose your cool.  It's understandable and OK to be angry, but have your emotions under control.  Take time to do that, if necessary, before administering the discipline.
  • Remember, underneath that outward act of defiance is not just a rebel, as it were, but a scared individual, unsure of his or her place and value as a person.  More is involved than simply raw defiance.   
 When outward raw defiance is not involved in your child's disobedience, then two other forms of discipline to use are:
  1. Withdrawal of a privilege or opportunity for enjoyment.  If a privilege (a recreation or toy) is abused then the consequence is to withdrawal it or another such privilege.
  2. Additional Responsibility.  If the misbehavior is a failing to do a responsibility (a chore, homework, etc.) then add a responsibility as a logical consequence.
Both of these disciplines can take many forms and need not be "heavy punishments."  Again, the goal of discipline is to, over time, impact a child's thinking in order that they choose to forgo their foolish strategies and adopt responsible living.  It's not meant to produce immediate transformation!  Consistent discipline applied to those observable patterns of misbehavior is key to weakening those wrong beliefs and goals.  You don't need to fret if you miss occasions for discipline.  More opportunities will always be in the offing. Good parenting is more about your direction and overall consistency than whether you make mistakes or flub a situation now and then.  So carry on.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Oil tankers and parenting...

Returning once again to the evening drama of Sally and Mom, we last witnessed Mom stopped dead in the water as she realized she was in a power struggle and needed to change direction.

"So when you find yourself in a power struggle, the first thing to do is to stop going in that direction.... But Jack, are you saying just let Sally disobey? Of course not."

But that doesn't mean you find some other way to pursue the wrong goal of getting her to obey. So what does a parent do in a situation like this? Well, sometimes it's best to just accept that the fact that you missed the mark. And that would mean choosing to now handle the situation in a way that is not yet another strategy to still get Sally to obey. I know, this sounds backwards, but hear me out.

First, that wrong goal to "get Sally to obey" is more embedded in you as a deeply felt commitment than you may realize. And why is it a wrong or bad goal?  Because Sally can effectively block it.  So, it's necessary to begin, if you would, putting that thing to death. Second, by following this advice you won't be going in the wrong direction. You'll be turning around. An oil tanker out in the ocean needs to travel as much as five miles in order to make a 180 degree turn. That takes time. If you were to take a snapshot of that tanker at different points during its course correction, it would appear as if it was going in the wrong direction. But actually, it's going in the right direction as it reverses course.

So there you are, dead in the water wondering what to do next. One way to handle this would be something as simple as: Go into the living room. Gently take Sally by the hand, letting her know that you're both going into the bedroom to get her ready for bed. Leave the toys. Continue with the normal bedtime routine, no recriminations, no reminders. It will likely feel like you're not doing what is best (getting Sally to obey), but it will be consistent with a godly purpose, which is what we want to be led by.  Kiss her goodnight and know that tomorrow is another day. This evening you're changing direction (which will likely be repeated again... and again). Success for you at this point is defined as choosing a goal that is responsible which doesn't seek to go back and get Sally to obey the original instructions. Helping her to get ready for bed fits that bill as a godly purpose. And, young children often simply need to be led in the direction that they ought to go. It's part of that "train up a child in the way they should go" thing by sometimes just leading your child in the right direction.

To be continued...

Monday, September 19, 2011

The continuing saga of Sally and Mom...

Back to bedtime power struggles from this earlier post.  Mom as you recall, not recognizing that Sally was pursuing the goal of reward without responsibility, had gotten herself into a power struggle with Sally.  Mom's goal was to get Sally to pick up her toys and then for her to move into the bedroom to get ready for bed.  Sally's goal was to ignore Mom's regular nightly admonition because she was enjoying playing with her toys and didn't want to stop... very normal, garden variety foolishness.  Mom, not appreciating Sally's indifference to her directions, slipped seamlessly into a power struggle. Here's the thing:  the default response in a parent to a child's disobedience is to meet that disobedience with superior force (warnings, threats, spankings) as a way to get them to obey.  It seems so right.  Obedience is good.  My child isn't obeying.  So, I will get my child to obey!  But as we've seen, and any parent has surely experienced, this often leads to an escalating episode of emotion, warnings, and threats resulting in little real obedience.

My premise is that most parents (even those who understand this stuff) are already part way into a power struggle before they realize, "Oops, bad idea."  So when you find yourself in a power struggle, the first thing to do is to stop going in that direction.  Stop trying to get "Sally" to obey.  In other words, get out of the power struggle.  The power struggle is due to the wrong goal that you've committed yourself to, i.e. get "Sally" to obey.  Extricating yourself from the power struggle entails jettisoning that wrong goal*.  As parents, we entirely underestimate our own culpability for these kinds of situations.  But Jack, are you saying just let Sally disobey?  Of course not.  But the path to effective parenting is not through parents winning power struggles.  Better to back out of a power struggle not knowing what to do next than to continue in a battle of the wills.  You can't go in a good direction without first stopping the wrong direction.  Think repentance first, then a new direction.

*Remember, a goal is something you're committed to and believe you must accomplish.  What I call a good goal is one in which you can take 100% responsibility for completing, i.e. a good goal and the actions to carry out that goal are not dependent on the cooperation of another for success.   A bad or wrong goal would be one you're committed to accomplishing in which you do need the cooperation of another for success

Saturday, September 17, 2011

When to discipline...

What are the prerequisites for discipline? As anyone who has been a parent for a while knows, children do all kinds of things that can bug Mom and Dad. Parents, any number of times, find themselves suddenly meting out a discipline that has more to do with a frustrating moment than actual breaking of a rule. Though having prerequisites for discipline will not magically transform a frustrated parent into one who's always fair and balanced nor produce perfect children, they will help set a direction to point the way for parents as to when and when not to discipline. The idea is to have some structure and guidelines for the benefit of the parent as well as the child.

Four broad areas that I think are important for governing when to discipline:
High-Tech Graphic
  1. Discipline requires a clear standard made known by parents and understood by their children.  Children are natural blame-shifters and without an unambiguous standard the beneficial effect of any discipline will be undermined. Clear standards are things such as household rules, daily routines, and responsibilities that children are subject to, as well as rules for specific or temporary situations.
  2. The standards or rules must reflect biblical moral reality.  This moral reality is simply the common wisdom (amplified in the Bible) which says that responsible living works best in this world and irresponsible behavior doesn't... that one should treat others rightly, that it's good to care for one's possessions and that of another, that obedience is a good thing to learn. In short it's essentially taking responsibility for one's life and loving thy neighbor as thyself.
  3. Structure and rules imposed by parents should reflect the growing responsibility of their children.  OK, what does that mean and what does it look like?  Essentially, the idea is that as my child grows more responsibility will be required of him.  At the same time, he'll also have more latitude to make his own choices.  My two-year-old will have a fewer number of responsibilities and less freedom to choose than my thirteen-year-old.  The accompanying high-tech-graphic depicts the concept.  The older a child grows, the Form expands as responsibilities grow.  What does Form signify?  Simply, it represents the non-negotiable standards that parents require.  It's evident that as children grow they need rules and responsibilities.  They also need expanding boundaries in which they, without parental interference, can make their own choices.  So within the moral boundaries of Form (the rules) there is Freedom to choose to do whatever a child wants without any consequence imposed by the parent.  Simply said, if a behavior doesn't violate a rule of the form, then the child is free to do it. Outside the moral boundaries of Form they are still free to choose but not without a consequence.  That is when discipline is imposed. The child's free will is respected while at the same time reinforcing the lesson that what they choose has consequences.
  4. Effective discipline requires contingent application. Simply said - "when this, then that." Parents need to be consistent by following through with consequences when their children disobey the clear moral standards set up.
What I would suggest is to sit down and think through the standards you've set up in your family. How do they reflect the above?  Do you need to add some rules or structure (set meal times with certain requirements, morning and evening routines)? Do you need to remove some? Where and how do you need to be clearer in your requirements? Are there things that you require of your children that reflect merely what bugs you at the moment and not what violates set rules reflecting a moral value? Be wary of having an abundance of rules. You're trying to communicate a moral direction to your children, not put them in a moral strait-jacket.  Relax... remember that the purpose of having rules and discipline is to weaken foolishness, not to find formulas that "work", i.e. get my children to obey right now or to quickly get them past the problem behavior of the month.  This is a long-term enterprise and change often comes slowly! 

Also, by coming back again and again to the Form and Freedom concept you'll be able to adjust your rules and discipline as necessary. You'll be able to more clearly discipline foolishness rather than your child's shyness, mistakes, or curiosity, or annoyances. It can help in identifying your child's underground foolishness as well as help in recognizing any unnecessary micro-managing of the details of your children's daily situations.  As pointed out before, the idea is to come up with some structure and guidelines to help you set and maintain an effective direction in your parenting.  It's way more about direction than doing everything right.

Friday, September 9, 2011

When Mommy met Sally...

When we last checked in on the bedtime tango of mother and child, Mom had failed to recognize Sally's foolish goal of Reward without Responsibility. As a result she had opted to pursue her own goal of getting Sally to obey, which led to a power struggle as Mom took responsibility to become the motivational force pushing Sally in the direction of obedience. A wee bit exhausting...

What is taking place in little Sally is not raw disobedience. Hers is not an outward defiance. Rather she's pursuing an underground strategy to manipulate her world so that she can get what she wants (to play) without having to take any accompanying responsibility (cleanup). Now keep in mind that this is natural to children. They're born this way... foolish - inclined to want their world to revolve around themselves and have someone else take on the duties of life.

But there is more than just a Machiavellian mindset of foolishness within our children. Made in the image of God, they are created to know the certainty of being valued by another... to be loved and to matter.  Just as foolishness in their hearts is a reality, there also exists a thirst for relational acceptance. Yet coupled with that thirst is the very real fear that they don't have what it takes to take things on.

Herein is the core philosophical dilemma of humanity.  As fallen creatures made in the image of God, how do we face a fallen world without God?  Given the challenge of that situation, children are understandably scared as they face life.  To a child, avoiding the responsibilities of childhood makes sense, "Mom and Dad, you take care of me... you take responsibility for making things work out well for me."  This fear combined with foolishness often directs children away from taking on their world.  And in those moments children wrongly think short-term, believing it is better to go for immediate gratification or to seek the safety of avoiding challenges.  It is through discipline and instruction in a loving relationship that parents seek to redirect those wrong beliefs and goals in order that their children would take on their world with responsible behavior towards others and the tasks of life.

Since Reward without Responsibility is the main foolish goal children pursue it is then essential that parents are able to recognize it.  As I've said before - become curious about what's behind your children's irresponsibility and misbehavior as it unfolds in different situations.  Take time to trouble-shoot and come up with some working hypotheses.  Again, there are no pat answers and formulas, but there are principles to guide.  Every child is different, so there's a variety of expressions to foolishness.  And every child will have multiple situations where RwR is in action.  It isn't necessary to find them all and discipline each occurrence.  Your purpose is not to eradicate foolishness or directly change your child's behavior, but to parent in a direction and have a family structure that reflects how this world works.  And one part of doing this is by identifying a few problem areas and bringing logical consequences to bear on a consistent basis.  Discipline (including natural consequences) is aimed at weakening foolishness, a wrong belief about how best to live life.  It is not the means by which parents produce obedient children.

So, how can a parent recognize that Reward without Responsibility is operating in their child?  Two questions to ask in order to think this through are:
  • Does your children seem casually indifferent to the consequences of their behavior?  If so, then your children are missing something they were meant to experience, i.e. the consequences of behavior actually has impact.    They are missing the joy or sorrow of knowing that what they decide to do really matters and makes a difference in their life and in the lives of others.
  • As a parent, do you feel like your children's servant?  If your routine is to give reminder after reminder, repeating instructions to be obeyed, and generally acting as the motivator and overseer to your children's obedience then you should step back and ask herself, "What's going on here?"... What am I doing?... Am I merely strengthening a fool with all my hovering, threats, etc.?"
Some examples of a child pursuing Reward without Responsibility would be things like:  leaving a bicycle out at the end of the day, being late for school, not picking up their toys or clothes, telling tall tales (wanting recognition without truthfulness), not eating their meals...  The list obviously goes on.  

Feel free to suggest other examples or to ask if a particular behavior falls under Reward without Responsibility. To be continued...  

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    What is Discipline?

    Before continuing with the continuing saga of Sally and Mom, I want to further discuss discipline.  Moving forward it's important to have a good understanding of it.  As mentioned in other posts, discipline is the biblical remedy for foolishness in children.  Remember that foolishness defined is simply a core belief that I can make it own my own in this world without God and/or conforming to His moral order.  This is a conviction that if left unchecked grows and strengthens over time.

    Discipline, as a remedy, is aimed at changing that internal foolishness, not its fruit, i.e. behavior.  It's purpose is to encourage a belief change concerning the best way to live.  Discipline is not primarily to teach a moral value.  Moral values are certainly taught but not directly.  When discipline is reduced down to "do what's right, don't do what's wrong" the child begins to think "I have to cram myself beneath these values or I can resist."  So again, discipline is the prescription for changing foolish beliefs.  It isn't a guarantee.  It is the proper parental response to the core problem in children - 1) because is is aimed at the child's wrong beliefs which animate the direction of their wrong choices and 2) it respects them as individuals made in the image of God.  Children (like us all) are created as relational beings meant to believe their own beliefs, set their own goals, choose behaviors that are consistent with those goals, and to have their own emotional responses to life.  They are not our property.  Allow your children the right to disobey... yet not without consequences.

    In order to flesh out how discipline is intended to work take a look at the physical reality of this world.  There are consequences to going against physical laws and quite naturally children learn how best to live through a cause and effect  relationship.  The stove in the kitchen is hot.  I tell my two year old "Don't touch the stove, it's hot!"  He touches it and immediately feels pain!  That cause and effect quickly teaches a lesson about God's physical order.

    But what about the other reality of God's world, His moral order?  This reality is invisible.  You can't see it nor touch it with your hand.  And yet it is just as concrete and real.  Like the physical realm, the moral realm is created by God and life works best when we conform to the laws of that unseen reality.  But the problem is that our children are born disinclined to believe (foolishness) in this moral structure.  This is something all parents know but are too often shocked and surprised when that foolishness expresses itself.  Mom and Dad teach Sally, "Be kind to your little brother, share with him."  Sally disagrees that this is the best way to act thinking, "No, my little brother just took my toy.  I'm going to hit him!"

    Herein lies the difficulty of teaching right and wrong.  This order isn't as easily learned as the physical.  First, children are born disbelieving the truth of how they were created to live.  They actively are opposed to that direction.  That isn't so with the physical realm.  And secondly, there is a rather long gap between the sowing and the reaping.  The pain of a burn from a hot stove is immediate.  The lesson is learned.  When someone acts against the moral laws surrounding them it, in fact, often works... for a time.  There is a painful reaping which eventually comes, if not in this life then afterwards (Psalm 73).  And we all become quite adept at finding ways of delaying the various consequences of following our own self-serving paths.  So too with children who really don't believe that if they violate God's moral order that things won't work out.  They can ignore it unless...

    Effective parenting demonstrates to children that going against the moral reality or laws of this life will lead to discomfort and pain not to pleasure... by exhibiting that a moral order does exist.  How?... by introducing some immediacy of consequences around their children.  Those disciplines of discomfort applied to their foolishness are minor "glimpses" of the very real painful consequences that ultimately result from defying that moral reality. Discipline is a disagreeable consequence meant to coax children to reconsider their wrong beliefs and change direction.

    So... discipline is the loving-parental-provision of what foolish-belief-governed-behavior will lead to if embraced in this life.  That sample of pain is thus aimed at weakening that wrong moral-world view in children.