Note from Hermana Linda: Pam continues to ask thought provoking questions about how one can raise children without spanking. In This comment, she asks,
What do you mean by natural consequences? I think some of those are what I hoped for my children to avoid and why I view some punishment as a necessary part of discipline. Am I misunderstanding?
I feel funny just butting into this conversation but Steph’s asked me to come over here and maybe share a story or two! And, this might sound weird, but, just from reading what all you’ve written I feel like I like you. 🙂 And, I feel like I completely relate to your concerns. For me I spanked “for 20 years.” I had one 21 year old and 4 kids under 8 at the time when I saw online that the “rod” spoken of in the Bible was a weapon used on predators. If that’s what it is…if it’s for the predators and not the sheep that changes EVERY verse I’d ever thought I knew about spanking! So, we stopped! That day! It was like you could hear the tires screeching and see smoke flying as we skidded to a stop!! 🙂
And, to be honest I was completely helpless! I had no idea what to do! And, I really feel like for a year…at least…I just did nothing! Just stood by wishing I could threaten or give a spanking and without that one tool I had nothing. I would open my mouth to say, “Stop that or else!” and I had to stop mid-sentence all the time! So, when you ask what you can do if you don’t punish…I totally understand where you’re coming from. I seriously had a fried brain for a year over it 😉
I have just a few things to say I guess! You said, “What do you mean by natural consequences? I think some of those are what I hoped for my children to avoid and why I view some punishment as a necessary part of discipline. Am I misunderstanding?”
I think in a way you almost answer the question with some of what you said. Punishments do interfere with children learning the “natural consequences” of their choices. “Natural consequences” in the physical world we understand that we do “x” and something will fall or burn or whatever. Basically it’s just “cause and effect.” Those are natural physical consequences and in order to safely navigate the world we live in it’s necessary for kids to know these things. In the spiritual realm…it is very similar in that our children (and we all) need to fully comprehend what the natural consequences of our choices are in order to not sin. When we err in the physical realm we “mess something up” but when we err in the spiritual realm we call those “mess-ups” sin.
And, I think that too often our effort to shield our kids from the natural consequences interferes with the really important lessons they need to learn. Like…say…you n’ I are really close friends and I come to your house and my child steals something from you. You and I understand that this is going to strain your relationship with me. It’s going to make you mistrust my child. If you’ve been close to the child it will make you feel violated, betrayed, and hurt. The natural consequence of that child’s actions are that you are hurt and all of the relationships involved are damaged.
The Bible tell us that “your sin has made a separation between you and your God” and that “hell” is eternal separation from God. We’re also told that “we’ve been given the ministry of reconciliation.” And, science tells us that we are social creatures. Not only do individual brain cells “die” if they are in isolation from other brain cells but our brains “die” if we’re left all alone. Isolation brings us death. Health relationships bring us life. God came to give us LIFE more abundantly…and He did that thru forgiveness…
So, the natural consequence of my child’s action would be “death” in our relationship. Jesus died to give us life and health and reconciliation in our relationships. How do I get THAT message across to my child? And, how do I show my child how to handle “being” offended and hurt AND how to fix offending and hurting someone?
If I always approach my child’s bad choices with “punishment” the child…when caught…will first, foremost, and only fear what’s coming to them. They will focus on the fear of that punishment. Their focus after their transgression will be on the pain that they are going to suffer…alone. Their focus will be on themselves. They will miss the true consequence of their actions. They may learn by repetition and by fear of severe punishment that “stealing is wrong and bad” but what they really need to learn is “why” it is bad. And, the “why” takes time…closeness…talking…and results in them learning empathy or the capacity to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
If they’re too young and immature to really understand the true natural consequences, they likewise are too young to be “punishing” for it anyway.
“Stealing” is just one example…but if you sit down and try to think of all the different things we could punish kids for…all the offenses that they can do to inspire a punishment really do boil down to disrupting some sort of relationship.
Back in 2010…my 8 year old hit his 6 year old sister. They were all about to head out the door to go play soccer at the youth center. My husband was taking the lead role in dealing with the situation and I was just sorta’ watching. My husband said to my son, “And, you’re NOT going tonight!” And, I watched then something that really sold me on the “not punishing” thing. What we wanted Josh to LEARN was that “hitting his sister is bad” and WHY. But, as my husband was explaining to him that it was bad because his little sister looks up to him and trust and loves him and it hurts her and their relationship for him to hit her…I watched as my son’s focus left my husband and went inward. His breathing became more rapid and his eyes were not focusing on my husband anymore. I could see that he was beside himself over his own grief and pain now that he couldn’t go along and play soccer. He was not hearing a word my husband said! I said, “Wait! Wait! Stop! Time out! You lost him! You have to take it back and let him go to soccer because you lost him.” My husband trusted me and agreed and told Josh he’d changed his mind and could go…And, I again watched as his breathing slowed…and his eyes again focused on what my husband was trying to tell him.
I’m convinced that the focus on “self” that punishment necessarily causes just ruins the lessons that the natural (God designed) consequences are there to teach us.
Now, I do get what you’re saying that sometimes we punish because we want to spare the children the “natural consequence.” We want them to understand that the hot stove can BURN them so we smack their hand. But…smacking their hand is not the only way to teach them not to touch the stove. It’s not like we either have to punish or let “nature take its course!” 🙂 What I’ve actually done with the stove is turn it on and let them touch it when it’s “warm.” Explain to them that it gets HOT and can hurt badly and show them what the burner looks like when it gets that hot. They also can be “close” to it and feel the heat coming off of it. I find that when I take the time to do that (particularly with my 7 year old) that they really almost feel love and loving after these lessons. A lot of times I get a hug from my kids after such a lesson. If I’d simply smack their hands I’d get a kid cowering and pulling away from me.
And, if they’re too young to be reasoned with…they’re too young to really be allowed to be making the choice of whether or not to touch that stove and that’s when we have to do “environment control” and “baby proof” or “kid proof” the house. And, I think that’s really key. If they’re too young to reason with, you control the environment not the child. And, once they’re old enough to reason with that’s what you use. And, if you do that well their whole life…they won’t be a danger to society. They’ll understand the value of human relationships, have empathy, comprehend how their actions affect their relationship with God, and will not be the type to have run-ins with the law because they will fear the “natural consequences” of the actions that lead people there.
They won’t drink and drive because they’ll be fully aware of how painful an accident would be to all involved. They won’t get into bar fights because they will be aware of all the hurt it can do to the people involved…including the person who pays the bills for the bar. They won’t drive recklessly because they’ll be aware of the potential harm of the natural consequences. They won’t cheat on their spouse because they would be aware of all the hurt and damage that’d do to them, their kids, and the other family and God. They won’t even cheat on their taxes because they’ll know that whatever they do “to the least of these” they’re doing to Jesus and that that applies to everything. The won’t want to hurt anyone…not even God.
That’s what I feel like I’ve learned since I’ve gone from being punitive…to now trying my best to “disciple” my kids instead!!!
SORRY that one lesson I haven’t learned is how to say anything in few words. 🙂