Children and Discipline

Sometimes, it seems as if anything goes in today’s world, including misbehavior.  But while some parents let their children do as they will, regardless of what effect it has on the child and others, some go too far in the opposite direction.  What do Mormons believe?  Punishment should never be the main point in raising a child.  Controlling a child’s behavior minutely should never be a main point in raising a child.  Every child is going to do things that parents don’t like and that parents don’t approve of.  And very young (or very teenage) children may do these things often, at that.  Parents will not be able to slap down every instance of misbehavior—and shouldn’t.  There are ways to discipline that don’t involve striking fear into the little “miscreant” child’s heart.

Mormon mother and sonResearch has presented us with three styles of disciplining children.  The first involves what some people think of immediately when they think of discipline.  Hitting, yelling, immediate (or delayed) and often harsh punishments for everything a child does wrong.  Although this method might work in the short term—the child will often stop whatever he’s doing through pure fear—it’s actually damaging in the long term.  Children disciplined in this way often grow up afraid to be spontaneous, withdrawn, and socially inept.  In fact, they are often also aggressive and have less of a conscience, rather than more of one.  This kind of discipline, used often, creates fear and discomfort, rather than communication and love, and the children suffer under it.  In the end, they don’t even learn the lessons they were supposed to learn.

The second style involves withdrawing love or attention when a child acts up.  Where the first style might cause a parent to spank a child every time he refuses to do chores, a parent using the second style might just ignore the child completely until the chores are done.  Research’s verdict on this style is mixed, but, understandably, a child mostly disciplined in this way can wind up with more guilt than he can handle, which can be paralyzing.

The third style uses the most gentleness and the most communication.  This style involves explaining to children why they should not act a certain way, and act a certain way.  It also involves explaining the consequences of actions to children and allowing them to experience those consequences.  This way is believed to give children more developed and more reasoned consciences, which Mormons believe are quite important, and leave them more competent and responsible.  They understand the whys of good acts and bad acts.  Instead of being hit when they do something they shouldn’t, they simply aren’t protected from the natural results of what they did.  If a child breaks a window, he must help replace it.  Or, when there are set punishments, they’re consistent punishments and are suited to the misbehavior.  If a child stays out too late with friends one night, he can’t go out with friends the next night.

Consequences have to always be assigned in love, never anger.  If something a child has done really angers a parent, the parent needs, more than anything, to calm down until she’s able to think things out clearly and kindly.  Parents should also always strive to understand why the child did as he or she did—sometimes, there might be a good reason, or an outside one.  If a child is unhappy at school or feels neglected, or has some emotional problems, all this should be taken into account.

Several prophets and presidents of the Mormon Church have spoken on this.  Former President Joseph F. Smith emphasized the power of love over the power of punishment, “Use no lash and no violence, but approach them with reason, with persuasion, and love unfeigned. The man that will be angry at his boy, and try to correct him while he is in anger, is in the greatest fault. . . . You can only correct your children by love, in kindness, by love unfeigned.”  And President Gordon B. Hinckley quoted from the Doctrine and Covenants, one of the Mormon books of scripture, when he counseled, “‘Reproving betimes with sharpness’ may indeed be appropriate, but not when in a fit of anger,  but ‘when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love’ (Doctrine and Covenants 121:43).”

Always, love is the principle we should use with our children.

Read more detailed principles about discipline here: Disciplining with Love

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