Category Archives: Discipline

Discipline and Punishment, is there a Difference?

My husband and I try and maintain a household with discipline, but not punishment.  I say try, because sometimes we fall into the punishment cycle, but mostly, I mean mostly, we try and aim for discipline.  What do I mean?  Is there a difference?  Well, I believe there is, and I’m going to try and explain it to you.

Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault
And no, despite using an image of Foucault’s text, I’m not going to reference Foucault… not in this post anyway!
Let’s start with the word “discipline”.  It’s been distorted over the years to contain a conflation of the word “punishment”, but I’d like to take it back to it’s Latin roots:

“disciplina ’instruction, knowledge’, from discipulus” (taken
Okay, so the definition of the word discipulus is: disciple, student, learner, pupil (taken from

There’s a clear theme about learning and about knowledge.

Let’s look at the word “Punishment”:

“the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense: crime demands just punishment (taken from

The word has a French root, punir, which means, if we take it back to the word “punish”: “Middle English: from Old French puniss-, lengthened stem of punir ’punish’, from Latin punire, from poena ’penalty’” (taken from

Thats all about retribution, payment, penalty, a payment excised for a crime.

Hmmm… I don’t know about you, but I think that’s hardly the environment that learning happens in.  In fact I would say that learning and punishment are probably diametrically opposed, unless you’re talking about a Pavlovian dog mentality, in which case sure, they are connected.  But… and this is a big but, does the proverbial Pavlovian dog KNOW why they are being punished and what was so intrinsically wrong about what they did, or do they avoid the negative stimuli in the future because it will cause pain?  And bearing in mind that avoidance of negative stimuli is just that… avoidance… so that might include ANY and ALL forms necessary to avoid it, none of which might involve thinking about whether the avoidance action is actually good or not.

So, I’d like to say that there IS a difference between the two concepts, and that I’d like to reclaim the word discipline back to it’s Latin roots, and stick with the teaching element of it.

What does this then mean for parenting?  If we extrapolate those two meanings outwards what would we get?  Well, fortunately someone has done the work for me!  Although I would have come to the same conclusions!  I drew the following chart from this link: which you can click on to obtain all the references:

Discipline vs Punishment

Although, I would like to add what I consider to be the fundamental difference between Discipline and Punishment… (and thus the one I hold onto the most):

Punishment teaches our children to do or not do something for fear of what might happen to them, Discipline teaches our children to do or not do something out of concern for what might happen to others. “

So what might be some examples of discipline and punishment?  I’m going to draw this into two separate (but related) types for each of these words/ethos’

Physical and Non Physical Discipline and Punishment

The thing is that both Discipline and Punishment have physical and non-physical expressions, and bear in mind that the examples given in the dimensions are by no means exhaustive.  I could have added Time In for Discipline NP and Time Out for Punishment NP.  The sad thing is that we tend to focus (in discussion) on the non physical side of discipline and the physical side of punishment.  This focussing means that we avoid seeing the full spectrum of possibility for growth and healing in discipline and damage in punishment.

So by now you might be wondering, what are some more specific examples of discipline and punishment?  Especially the former, because after all, we all want to know what to do, rather than what not to do – right?  Well, you will be pleased to know that that is the next one in this series of posts on Discipline and Punishment, stay tuned!   And yes, in that one… I might talk about Foucault.

Stopping the Cycle of Smacking

I’m privileged to introduce you to a follow up post to a guest post from Mama O Naturale I had a few weeks ago:

Some time ago I wrote a blog entry about turning the tides. Of becoming a different parent to my own. Of stopping the cycle of physical discipline: smacking.

Hand smacking

The last 6 months have been a bumpy and unnerving journey. The last year in fact has been a tumultuous time for me.

A year ago I lost my brother suddenly in a vicious road accident, a month later I gave birth to my daughter, 5 months later I became a single mother and 6 months after that we’ve come full circle, just celebrating (if you can call it that) the one year anniversary of my brother death and we are but weeks away from my daughters first birthday. Though my intention not to smack was heartfelt and honest, I cannot say I was as successful as I might have liked to have been. The last 6 months of adjusting to life as a single mother have been difficult to say the least. There is no relief team who charge in the door at 6pm every evening to relieve you of your quarry, but instead you’re alone to deal with the witching hour and the ever increasing tension of the evening meal. There’s a toddler hanging off your leg, an infant screaming at your feet, pots boiling over, smoking frying pans and on the odd occasion, a fire in the kitchen. (Honestly, I’ve never set fire to anything I was cooking in my life. In the last 6 months I’ve had 2 oven fires and a frying pan/oil fire. Sheesh!!!) Not to mention the terrific twos of a certain little boy who has the will power of a buffalo in a stampede. There is much to contend with, and only one, often frazzled, person to deal with it all.

Needless to say, one gets tired, one’s fuse shortens and on the odd occasion one snaps. By my count, I recall 20 or so times that I have smacked in the last 6 months. I remember them all because they’re gut wrenching reminders that, in that moment in time, I failed. But, there has been progress. And in reminding myself of this, the guilt and shame dissipate.

Any blind man can see how hard it is to be a single parent, and considering all of the circumstances, I’ve done an alright job. In fact, I’ve done more than alright. I have a 2.5 year old little boy who is fun, loving and overflowing with empathy and a 1 year old little girl who seemingly has bottomless stores of patience and a sense of humour to boot. I’ll stand up now and blow my own trumpet because there really aren’t too many people out there who are going to blow it for me.

And out of the shadows, there is a glimmer of success. And as time passes that glimmer turns into a beaming light.

One month. ONE MONTH. Do you hear me?!!! I have gone one whole month without smacking. One month might not seem such a great thing to most people, but given the fact that it takes 3 weeks to form new habits, I think it’s fair to say I’m well on my way to a better life with my kids.

There was no magic recipe to concoct this success. No epiphany or turning point. It’s been months of determination. Of falling down and getting up again. Of refusing to give up and pushing on admitting my failings, and trying again.

That’s not to say I’m a perfect parent. I still yell sometimes and I’m not always as attentive as I probably should be; it’s hard to get time to myself these days and sometimes I just bury myself in Facebook for a moments peace. But I’m getting there and compared to how things were 6 months ago, I’m levels above where I was.

If you, like me, were a smacker, know that you can change. You can stop making excuses for your behaviour and defending it with immoral reasoning. It’s a head down, bum up (pun intended) task. An achievable task. I am walking proof of that.

May you create love filled memories in each and every day.

parent holding hands with child

Out with Time Out, In with Time In

Aletha Solter Quote

I’m going to divide this blog into two sections.  In the first I’m going to talk about why it’s not good parenting, and I will provide you with references where other parenting experts (far more experienced than I am) have explored this.  In the second section I’m going to look at what we can do instead, what can we replace this with?

This second part is crucially important.  In my teaching role as a Parenting Educator in New Zealand, I saw a rapid shift in parenting techniques as soon as Section 59 was repealed (this removed the ability to plead that a parent was using reasonable force to correct a child’s behavior, and has been – incorrectly – labeled, the “anti-smacking” law).  Suddenly, parents who had not carefully examined their parenting style and it’s impact were thrust into an awkward situation.  They had no idea what to do.  If they couldn’t smack a child then what could they do?  The government never thought to back up the repealing with so good advice and community support that could help these parents.  Instead these parents (in the main) turned to Parenting Pop Culture and the self-appointed queen of it, Super Nanny.  Ahh, Super Nanny got results, she didn’t hit, in fact she told parent not to.  But she did use this cunning technique called “Time Out” or “The Naughty Corner/Step/Place”.  Parents got this, one minute for each year of their life, they have to stay there, put them back if they come up, explain why they are there and expect, nay demand, an apology at the end of the allotted time.  Simple, not much gaffing about there.  No psycho-babble, quick and effective.  Just like a smack.   Even parenting “advocates” all around NZ advocated Time Out, even the most prominent ones have and STILL do.   I was told by someone within one of these organizations (this was at the beginning of my anti-Time Out conversion, because I too once upon a time thought it was ok) that even though the powers that be knew it was wrong, and knew that it was damaging, we talk about it and provide guidelines for it because that’s what people want.  Sound familiar?  Think about breastfeeding, crying it out etc etc… these organizations know about the research but do very little to promote it.  It’s a parenting hot potato, they don’t want to touch it, and I would say they also don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them, the public and the government in the form of lucrative contracts.  But that’s by the by, this is about *why* I’m calling Time Out on Time Out.

Whats so Wrong with Time Out?Boy in time out corner

Time Out, in part, as much as all other Pop Parenting advice, stems from Behaviourism.  Which in a nutshell is positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement.  Think Pavlov’s dogs.  So, we reward what we want and punish what we don’t want.  Time Out is a punishment.  It is the withdrawal of all love and affection.  It is the banishment.  It conflicts with a basic human “need to belong”.   Super Nanny advises us to ignore the child whilst they are in Time Out, to make sure that they are in a safe area so you won’t have to intervene with them too much.  In this state the child can imagine what life would be like if they “cease to exist”.  Imagine how horrifying that is to a child.  It’s absolutely devastating to adults, think of when you have experienced social exclusion.  Scientists have been able to demonstrate that the pain of social exclusion lights up the same centers in the brain as does physical pain. Your love has ceased to be unconditional, it has become conditional.   Your child is experiencing pain, on a par with physical pain when you put them into Time Out.  I have to wonder, and this may seem crass, but why wouldn’t you just smack them?  It would achieve a similar result?  And this is just reason number 1 for me.

Let’s go back to the suggested technique.  The child is placed in time out, for the requisite time and is instructed to think about what they have done.  This requires a basic understanding of consequences with a clear head.  I did this, then this happened, someone got upset/angry/hurt, something got broken etc etc and this happened and now I am in Time Out, I don’t like Time Out, therefore I won’t do it again.  Seems fairly simple right?  Wrong.  That’s quite sophisticated and requires an understanding of consequences that children simply don’t have until they are about 8 or 9 – or even later.  Why you ask?  Have you ever asked an adult to perspective take, put themselves in another person’s shoes when they are angry?  Sure, yes I understand that you were angry that Jimmy stole your toy/car, but Jimmy was tired of waiting for it and you weren’t sharing and that’s no reason to hit him, go to Time Out and when you come out you will have to say you’re sorry.  Sure, yes, America, you’re angry that the Middle East has lots of oil and you are tired of waiting for it, but that’s no reason to invent WMDs and bomb them into submission, now go to Time Out and when you come out you will have to say sorry.  Ok, so maybe the analogy requires some more sophistication and less political posturing, but I’m fairly sure that most of you get what I mean.  When we are angry we are not capable of thinking straight, we go back to the basic fight/flight/freeze mechanism.  So, they are full of emotion and then we banish them and expect them to think clearly without any assistance at all?

Lastly, but by no means least I want to address the “apology” aspect of the Time Out technique.  Somehow we think that by forcing a child to say sorry at the end of time out, after they have “thought” about the consequences, then we have achieved something and things will go back to normal.  Seriously?  Which would you rather as an adult, a sincere or forced apology?  If you are forcing your child to apologize when they have not even been helped to see the consequences you are not only not empathizing with them, or guiding them, but you are asking them to lie.  Remember that as an adult it can be extraordinarily difficult to say sorry.  Our children find this hard as well.  Frankly, it can be embarrassing to admit that we are wrong and children feel this too.  When children are genuinely sorry you will know they are from several cues, their body language of “shame” – head lowered, gaze aversion, trying to look small, will be screaming I feel silly and I’m sorry.  You can help with this by acknowledging the body language and asking things like “You look like you might be feeling sorry, is that right?”  You can even ask if they are having difficulty with it.  Once, when my daughter was struggling with this I asked her to imagine what saying sorry looked like.  She said a bunch of flowers and a hug.  She simply could not speak the words with her voice, so instead she chose to speak with her body and express her apology with a hug.  One day, she will feel brave enough to say it too, but in the meantime I am happy with a genuine hugging apology on her terms rather than a forced uncomfortable one on my terms.

So, by this stage I’m hoping you have rethought Time Out!  Just in case you still have questions though, and even if you don’t I highly recommend reading the following posts which helped me along my way:

What’s the Alternative?

There are many MANY alternatives to Time Out.  We need to remember that discipline is about the teachable moment, about connecting with our child and about helping them with self regulation.  Remember that discipline comes out of love, and that all your parenting decisions need to come from this.  Your child needs to feel unconditionally loved even when they have done something wrong, even when they seem most unlovable.

So what can we call this?  How can we re-language our discipline techniques to encompass connection when parenting?  I like the term “Time In”.  So what would the rules for “Time In” look like?

Time in

  1. Both the child and the adult engage in Time In
  2. We stay in Time In, we stay connected till all the emotions have been heard and regulated – there is no time limit.
  3. We work together on this, and we accept that either or both parties have responsibility for what happened.
  4. Time In is a place for unconditional love and honesty.  It is not a place for judgement or punishment.
  5. Time In is a teachable moment, for BOTH parties.
  6. Time In can happen anywhere, it is not a step, it is not a seat, it lives in our heart, it is when we are in time with our hearts.

So, I challenge you, toss out Time Out, and come in, to Time In.  I guarantee you will find love in it.

“Hi, my name is Mama O Naturale, and I am a smacker”.

Guest Post by Mama O Naturale:

“Hi, my name is Mama O Naturale, and I am a smacker”.

New Years Eve 2011, I made the decision to put a stop to this traditional form of punishment after reading the following quote:

“When a child hits a child, we call it aggression. When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility. When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault. When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline.”
~Haim G. Ginott

The reality of what I had been doing finally settled in when I read those few words. What they say to me is this; I was excusing my aggressive, hostile, assaults on my child by labeling it as discipline.

I see now that smacking is wrong and for a while after I figured it out, I felt pretty guilty about it all too. But, I am reminded daily, that I cannot change the past, I can only work to a better future.

More than six months down the track, I have improved myself though I am unable to say I am flawless.

So why was I so keen to whop my child at the first sign of disobedience? And worse still, why was I so willing to excuse it?

Without wanting to make excuses for myself or my behaviours, I think it’s important to talk about the impact of role modeling.

On the exit road out of Post Natal Depression I enlisted the services of a local counsellor to aide me in learning new skills to manage my own behaviour and emotions. To start with she created a genogram for me so I could see quite clearly where my behaviours had come from and why.

What a child sees, hears and experiences throughout their childhood is what they grow to know and learn to be the way things should be. Developmentalists call this a “working model”. Essentially, if a child grows up in a family where smacking is the norm, then inevitably smacking will become the norm for them when they become parents. It’s a “monkey see, monkey do” scenario. Parents play a major role in how their children turn out.

Needless to say, I was smacked as a child, often. And many times for no real reason (and by real I mean an offence that might actually warrant a smack). I was raised by a father who was raised by his grandparents in post war England and by a mother who suffered from such deep and wounding depressive and anxiety driven episodes that she was more like a meek 5 year old than the grown woman and mother that she was supposed to be. The way I was raised was based off of, not a 30 year old theory like most people, but off of a 50-60 year old theory. I was raised in a home where “children should be seen and not heard”; where your parents quite openly tell you that they “don’t like you, but we’ll always love you”; a home where he who had the loudest voice ruled; a home where words seemed so insufficient that a flick of the hand across bare legs or buttocks was the only answer. Most shockingly, this was always done in anger, usually multiple times, leaving welts and bruises across my bare skin.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my parents dearly. They, like any other parent, did the best they could with what they had. And what they had was crap role models combined with a society that believed that any deviation from the social norm was a crime punishable by exile and isolation. Fit in or get out.

So, the vicious cycle had continued for (at the very least) a third generation. And here I found myself lashing out in anger over disobedience with a swift hand across the nearest body part of my poor, unsuspecting son.

I cringe now to think what I did. The look of sheer terror on his face as he saw me wielding myself towards him with fury plastered all over my face. I remember seeing him flinch on occasions where I simply intended to reach past him for something near him. Those moments hurt me the most and I find myself wondering how it is that I have managed to still have a child so filled with love and affection. But it is best not to think on that and instead fill my heart with love and gratitude that I now have a chance to rectify this.

The research into the physical, cognitive and emotional damage caused by smacking is wide and varied. However, it wasn’t research that initiated my decision to put a stop to this prehistoric family tradition. Instead, for me, it was the memories from my own childhood.

I remember quite vividly, the feelings and emotions that charged through me as a youngster before, during and after a smacking. As a small child, I remember the fear and confusion. As I got older I remember quite clearly the anger and hatred that I felt towards my parents for the unnecessary infliction of pain and shame they cast upon me.

What made me decide that smacking had to stop for me was knowledge that I NEVER EVER wanted my child to feel those feelings towards me. EVER! I invite any parent who thinks smacking is ok to cast their mind back to their own experiences and perhaps consider rethinking their stance. And I mean REALLY look back. Don’t overshadow or down-play your actual experiences with your “I was smacked and I turned out fine” excuses. Really think back, and you will remember the truth of it.

Aside from my own experiences and opinions, The Natural Child Project  gives 10 good reasons not to hit/smack your child here.

After 25 years of thinking things should be done a certain way, and 2 years of actually carrying out those beliefs, I have found it a challenging journey to change the tides. I have had to learn new skills in self-control and arm myself with new tools and alternatives to what I had been doing.

Resources are not scarce; they are however, in my own experience, often rather vague to say the least. I guess because most of these articles are written by fellow natural parents, there is the collective idea that we shouldn’t be telling others how to parent their child. I found many articles to be wishy washy opinions when all I want is direction. That’s right. Iwant someone to tell me how to do this because God knows I have no idea.

So, out of the many articles I have read I have found this article and this article to be the most useful.

I concede, is and shall continue to be a long and bumpy ride, but hey, parenting was never meant to be easy, right?

May you create love filled memories in each and every day.

Who is Mama O Naturale?

“Mama O Naturale” is a handle I have chosen that resounds my own beliefs about a natural, holistic and gentle way of life. I choose to stay anonymous for the sake of myself, my children and my family because I accept that much of what I want to share is not “okay” with a lot of people but I still feel it is deeply important to share.

I am mother of two and I am currently studying towards a Diploma in Human Development with a vision to move forward into working with families to raise their children using gentle methods.

I was raised in an authoritarian household and after having my first child I decided that it was not a scene I wanted to repeat for my own children. And so began the long, and often bumpy, ride towards a gentler way of life.

When my son was 8 weeks old I stumbled across a local woman who was running mother/baby classes, teaching the philosophy of the late Dr Emmi Pikler. Through this valuable asset I have been able to take the journey towards gentle parenting with close support.

I am now into my third year of following the Pikler philosophy, and I have begun to adapt it to fit my own style, mixing it with a lot more attachment style parenting. I have also been lucky enough to complete the Circle of Security parenting training.

My hope is that, in sharing my own journey with you, you will see the lack of perfection, the reality and the lessons that we can all learn from each other if we would only stop judging for long enough to really take note.

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