I have taught hundreds of children since opening up my own karate school and every year I run across a few parents who are frustrated with their child’s behavior so they use my class as a form of punishment by not allowing them to attend.
At first glance, that sounds reasonable, however, I tell parents a far more effective tool is to bring them to class and let me talk to them.
Remember what is was like being sent to the Principals office?
The other reason I feel strongly that this is the wrong approach is that when children have been attending my program, they know what is expected of them and they must consistently focus, have nice manners and behave. Regardless of whatever else might be going on in their lives, they can count on me as the one constant in their lives.
A friend of mine, Melody Shuman, has been studying children’s behavior and how best to teach them martial arts, has some strong opinions of her own. Check out this article she wrote.
Good behavior is a learning process for children, and we are their road map.
Children usually behave per their own emotions and impulses. At the same time, being a parent is also a learning process and sometimes we rely on our own emotions and impulses to teach. Usually that means we divert directly to punishments when a child misbehaves, missing a crucial opportunity to teach them. With that said, I am going to break down how to teach good behavior through discipline vs. punishment.
Let’s compare the two words and what they really mean:
Punishment – means to inflict pain or suffering as a penalty
Discipline – means to teach
It’s understandable that we as parents can get very frustrated when a child misbehaves, specifically when they make the same poor behavior choices over and over.
At the same time, if we have clear goals to teach good behavior skills, then we can respond better. The better we respond, the better the results.
What are our goals for our children when they misbehave?
Our first goal is to get them to cooperate.
This is primarily short-term.
Our second goal that we don’t always consider is more long-term, and that is to make better choices without the threat of punishment or consequences.
To accomplish this, we need to consider both as often as possible. To accomplish this requires that you are patient, present, and intentional.
Now, let’s look at how punishment and discipline compare when accomplishing our goal of developing good behavior skills…
Punishment vs. Discipline:
Punishment may shut down a behavior, but if you teach your child, then they will develop self-discipline skills such as managing emotions and impulses.
When you discipline, you maintain a high relationship of trust and self-confidence.
When you punish, you build a proverbial wall, and decrease one’s trust self-confidence. With that said, it makes sense to have a strategy for disciplining a child when they misbehave…
3-steps of discipline:
CONNECT – this doesn’t mean to be permissible or passive, but to ensure that as you begin to set clear expectations, your child calms down emotionally and feels your loving/ caring approach. When a child is upset, they are less likely to hear what you are saying. You must be patientso that you remain as calm as possible during the process, which is the hardest but most stress-free way to discipline.
RE-DIRECT – list out what the poor behavior choice was as well as what the proper behavior choice is, see my podcast Episode 12: ‘Making Choices’ for more information. This requires you to be presentso that you can clearly calculate the desired outcome.
REPAIR – discuss necessary steps on how to solve the current behavior problem, review better choices, and set ground rules should the poor behavior choices continue. This requires you to be intentionalin your actions so that your long-term goals start to take shape.
Of course, this strategy won’t work all the time, so it’s also important to have a back-up strategy. For starters, it’s better to say ‘consequences’ instead of ‘punishments’ so that your intentions are more goal-oriented versus pain-oriented.
When are consequences ok?
Only after you’ve you have worked through the 3 steps of discipline and still your child intentionally disobeys the ground rules.
What type of consequences are ok?
One that matches the behavior.
For example: if the child throws her iPad in an impulsive rage, then taking away her iPad for 48 hours is a considered a reasonable consequence. (A week is a long period and could potentially trigger more anger and rage. The goal is to teach her, but also empower her to self-correct her behavior in the future. The smaller time frame will teach her that throwing things is not acceptable, but at the same time you trust that she will re-correct this behavior within the next few days.)
What type of consequence are not ok?
One that is retro-active.
For example: taking away good things isn’t the best consequence, such as karate lessons, which positively reinforces self-discipline. Although parents may think this is a good move because it’s an activity they like a lot and the pain of losing karate will teach them a valuable lesson, it’s doing the opposite.
Pain infliction based on taking away something they like may cause more misbehavior and instill long-term damage to their trust for you. Also, strongly consider the fact that they lose all the positive benefits karate reinforces such as discipline, confidence, fitness, positive social interaction, and more.
One that decreases moral.
For example: taking away a student’s belt will shame the child, which decreases self-esteem. Public humiliation will leave a permanent footprint in the child’s brain, specifically a negative one.
For every negative footprint left, self-esteem and moral decreases. The more children lack self-confidence and moral, the lesser chance you have of them believing in themselves to make proper behavior choices.
So, what do you do if you have a child that is misbehaving all the time with bits of rage, back-talking, and defying the rules?
You map out a productive strategy that includes method for building proper behavior habits along with pre-determined consequences. For example: if you hit someone, then you must write a letter to the person you hit (or if you are younger, you must apologize face to face with a specific pre-framed apology).
If you throw a something, then you lose a personal item for 48 hours.
If you show poor manners, then you must re-enact the proper manner if you are younger, or write a letter about having better manners. All of this should be pre-framed.
If you wake up late for school because you stayed up late the night before, then you must go to bed an hour earlier for the next two days.
At the same time, if you want consequences to work then you also need rewards. Reward your child when she goes a week without misbehaving. (This time frame may be shorter or longer depending on the child.) Also, the best rewards are not material things, but more relationship-building rewards. For example: she can pick to go to a family movie, or a special place for a family dinner.
My suggestion is to make a list of rewards and consequences so that you are prepared.
Now what if you’ve tried this strategy and it doesn’t work?
For starters, be sure to give it time.
If you are struggling with your child, then you must be reasonable on how long it will take to develop better behavior choices. It won’t happen overnight, and at the same time, she may get better and then fall off track again.
However, if you’ve tried these strategies for a solid month with no success, then the next step is to bring in an expert. Chances are there are some neurological deficiencies there that are interfering with her development.
Bottom line, the three biggest takeaways from this are:
Discipline is the better, more positively-productive method for instilling long-term behavior skills.
Connect, re-direct, and repair is the 3-step method for developing self-discipline skills.
When necessary, consequences are more productive than punishments. Avoid consequences that are retro-active or ones that decrease moral. Be sure to add rewards as well.
I hope this article sheds some positive light on how to help your child make better behavior choices. Be sure to follow my podcast ‘Melody Shuman Breaks It Down’ on iTunes, and you can also check out the video recordings on my YouTube page by searching my name. If you have future article and podcast requests, please email me at email@example.com.
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Sensei Chris Feldt is the owner and chief instructor of Samurai Karate Studio, a leadership academy located in Northeast Columbia, South Carolina. His school teaches karate to children and adults ages 4 and up. SKS specializes in self-defense, anti-bullying, stranger danger and character and leadership development.
Mr. Feldt was an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina for college credit in karate and self-defense. Samurai Karate Studio has been recognized as a leader in martial arts instruction by being honored with the Best of Columbia Award for 5 consecutive years in a row.
Sensei Feldt has been a guest speaker in the Richland 2 School District covering school talks on stranger danger, anti-bullying strategies, kindness, and making good choices. He is available for both private and corporate self-defense seminars.
Samurai Karate Studio is also a proud member of MAAB, Martial Artists Against Bullying, a nationwide program made up of martial arts schools throughout the country that are committed to helping children who are victims of bullying. If you or someone you know is being bullied, we are here to help. But, you have to take the first step and either call us at 803-462-9425 or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bullying is one of the most serious issues we face today and with the right coaching, students can learn how to defeat the bully using non-violent strategies.