The first weeks of a baby’s life can be gruelling and tiring for the new parents. Some parents can be completely overwhelmed with this new life that is suddenly thrust upon them. During these early phases, mistakes can be made that can have an effect in the years to come.  Experts often cite the first three years in a child’s life as a very important if not the most important phase , a time when the behavior and attitudes show by the parents and other caregivers set a blueprint for adult life.

Just to put this into perspective. Alfred Adler, a Viennese psychiatrist believed that we are all born “hardwired” to seek connection with others. Adler felt strongly that this basic human need to belong, connect and find worth is influenced by our early experiences and consequently the early decisions we make about ourselves, others and the world around us. Recent research tells us that those children who enjoy this “connection” to their family, school and community are less likely to misbehave as children and underachieve as adults. Adler’s work is seen as the forerunner of the Positive Discipline “movement”.

Positive discipline is a process of teaching children how to behave appropriately and respects the rights of the individual child, the group, and the adult. It is different to punishment. Punishment tells children what they should not do; positive discipline tells children what they should do. Punishment teaches fear; positive discipline teaches self-esteem.

This is the key to understanding the difference between punishment and discipline because there is a big difference. How many times have you seen parents yelling, screaming, smacking and dragging their little one along the street in the name of “discipline”? How many times have you heard parents using threats, warnings and lectures to gain compliance in the name of “discipline”. All of these punishments create bad behavior and not only that..they lack respect, create considerable doubt in the child’s mind and lead to guilt and shame. They also have long-term effects. Some may be thinking at this point that I am advocating some kind of permissiveness and saying that children should be able to do as they please… nothing could be further from the truth. Permissiveness does not create a learning atmosphere nor does it create important skills needed later. Positive discipline on the other hand, coaches, guides, teaches and invites the child to make healthy choices by being part of the solution, not the problem. Children do not learn when they spend most of their time being threatened, scared or angry and in defensive mode. To some parents, this seems like compliance or rebellion but is purely a reaction and a need to regain the “connection”. In the child’s mind, this misbehavior works because it regains the parent’s attention…even though it is negative attention. Cheryl Erwin, MD wrote in her famous book, The First Three Years, that punishment is “likely to produce the Four R’s… Resentment, Rebellion, Revenge and Retreat”… enough said.

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