So I came across this post on Facebook the other day (I always get good blog ideas when something on Facebook rubs me the wrong way), and it was one of those little e-card pictures that are everywhere. On the picture it said, “I was spanked as a child and I now suffer from a psychological disorder known as ‘respect for others.’” I am sure that this was somewhat tongue-in-cheek and probably a response to all the anti-spankers out there, but it stirred up some anger in me.

One of the most basic rules of statistics is that correlation does not prove causation. Just because you are super awesome, spanking was not the variable that led to you being awesome.

Does everyone who was spanked have respect for others? No. Does everyone who wasn’t spanked have no respect for others? No. Then we are clearly missing the point with this whole debate. There are other factors that are not being considered.

What do we want as parents? We want our children to grow up to be happy, healthy, committed, driven, productive members of society. That’s the goal. Almost every parent can agree on this, but that’s where the agreement among parents stops. It’s great to have this awesome end goal in mind, but how do we get there? How do we take this little creature filled with snot, defiance, and endless neediness and transform them into the adult version of who we always wanted to be? We lead them, we guide them, and we teach them — sometimes through punishment.

Why do we discipline our kids? What is the point of punishment? We punish them because we love them. We lead them and guide them, teaching them how the world works. If you punish your kids so you feel better, you’re doing it wrong. If you punish your kids to prove a point, you’re doing it wrong.

The goal of punishment is not so the child wallows in self-pity, crawling on their hands and knees while begging for forgiveness. If that’s the goal, you are on a power trip. Be a parent, not a tyrant. Punish out of love. Your parental discipline style goes so far beyond what you actually do — such as spanking, timeouts, scolding, and restriction. Your parental discipline is a part of your system and cannot be separated from who you are. It’s the way you talk, the way you react, the way you treat others, and the way you praise your child, etc. You cannot separate your discipline style from who you are. Grasp this concept — it’s important.

It doesn’t really matter whether you spank your children. There are fantastic adults who were not spanked and fantastic adults who were spanked. Likewise, there are really crappy adults who were spanked and crappy adults who were not spanked. As is normally the case when there are strongly polar opposite views on an issue, the most helpful and truthful advice is somewhere in the middle.

If you have multiple children you have no doubt noticed an amazing phenomenon: they are different. They have different interests, likely respond differently to pressures, and have different dispositions. It doesn’t matter what discipline style you use, but there are certain elements about punishing children you have to know. There are five keys to disciplining effectively:

  1. Be consistent. Your child should know what to expect out of you when they screw up. The spectrum of possible punishments for lying should not vary from a “try better next time” to being kicked out of the house. Kids feel safe when they can expect what’s coming, and that safety keep them psychologically well.
  2. Be fair. Don’t banish one child to the backyard for seven hours while taking away TV time from the other for the same offense. Kids have a very strong sense of justice. Use it.
  3. Make sure the punishment matters to the child. This is important. Don’t ground your kids to their room if they have a TV, X-box, and stereo and love spending time in their room in the first place. Find something that’s important to them. They have to care. Different children respond differently to different punishments. There is no one size fits all when it comes to punishing kids. Know your kids and know what works.
  4. Be on the same page as your spouse. This speaks to being consistent and fair. Parents should not have different rules for punishing the kids. That is confusing and will lead to relationship problems at some point.
  5. Punish out of love. If you spank, don’t do it when you are angry. The goal of punishment is learning. Your children should be learning something from being punished so they do not repeat the same mistakes over and over again.