This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Katharine Leslie seminar* - discipline vs punishment?

OK, I've heard of Discipline vs Punishment.

Discipline is direct training or learning experience designed to develop self-control, self-esteem, moral character, responsible behavior.... It can be positive or negative, but almost always entails acceptance or submission to authority and control.

Punishment happens after the misbehavior. It can be mild (inducing discomfort, shame or guilt)to severe (physical or emotional pain and suffering). Most parents use removal of privileges or objects, time out or spanking as a form of punishment.

All my training classes said punishment is bad. Discipline is good.

Discipline Problems vs Behavior Problems

Discipline problems (noncompliance, misbehavior) occur when the caregivers have not structured the child's environment for success, or when parents are inconsistent (expectations or consequences), non-responsive, or inaccessible. When adults adjust their behaviors and attitudes, often children with discipline problems can be brought under control in as few as 3 to 7 days. This is the premise behind the show World's Strictest Parents.

Behavior problems on the other hand lie within the child. These are persistent behaviors that do not disappear even with the best parenting (although good parenting can help to control the behaviors). These can include impulsivity, inattentiveness, and other behaviors like ADHD, FAD and immature behaviors associated with missing capacities in object relations.


Having behavior problems is like being born with poor eyesight. No amount of punishing or controlling is going to fix this problem. Glasses will help. However the parent will be responsible for taking the child for regular eye check-ups, teaching him how to care for his glasses, and restricting activities where glasses might break. The goal is that by the time the child is 18, he will be ready and able to take full responsibility for the care of his own eyes and glasses.

So how do you know if your child has a discipline problem or a behavior problem? The best way is to change the home environment. If the behavior stops or improves it is most likely a discipline problem. It it remains unchanged but more in control, and the parent is acting consistently, it is likely a behavior problem.

Punishment vs Consequences

Punishment usually inflicts pain and suffering in hopes of stemming a bad behavior, but consequences do not have to hurt to teach. Lately my FAIR Club assignments for Bear have leaned more toward punishments (reading and writing bible verses and studies about integrity when I know he hates reading and writing, doesn't "get" the concepts, and doesn't really learn that way).

Typical differences between punishment and consequences:


  • emotional<-------------------->non emotional/matter of fact

  • physically painful<-------------------->not physically painful

  • humiliating<-------------------->not humiliating

  • arbitrary<-------------------->planned

  • sometimes illogical<-------------------->logical/natural

  • removal of object privilege<-------------------->adding of task/ responsibility

Both can restrict a child, but the logic is different. For example, after exhibiting poor behavior in a supermarket:

- PUNISHMENT - a parent may restrict a child by sending him to his room.

- CONSEQUENCE - if a child is unmanageable in public places a parent may choose not to take a child to these places until he can demonstrate some restraint.

So the consequence is being used as a preventative measure (like discipline).

Parents need to be "listening" to what the child's behavior is telling them (usually an underlying unmet need) rather than expecting children to perform at things they may not be ready for and then punishing them for bad behaviors.

Obviously Bear has behavior problems instead of discipline problems, and I'm happy to say that we've mostly been doing things right in regards to prevention versus punishment. It's good to have the words though, because I've been feeling more and more like a stubborn, vindictive witch instead of a parent who is lovingly avoiding setting my child up for failure. I need to adjust my mind set too so I can confidently defend my parenting choices for my children.

If my child were 16 months and I did not put a gate on the stairs or outlet covers on all the outlets everyone would agree that I am a bad mama. Child-proofing the house would not be seen as punishment at all in fact prevention is perceived as much better than having to practically sit on your kid and constantly be telling them no, No, NO! If I chose to leave the outlet covers in place, just in case, for many years (yes, we still have outlet covers on all our outlets)... no one would think anything of it because when the child is old enough to be able to handle access to the outlets the covers wouldn't stop him anyway.

If I took my 7 year old niece to the mall and dropped her off, I would be a bad mama. If I dropped my 13 year old off in front of the airport with no ticket (this happened to me at least 3 times), I would be a bad mama. If I dropped my 13 year old at the airport with my credit card (which the airline ticket lady refused to take), would I be a bad mama? What if I got my child her own check book? What if she were 17? What if she were mentally disabled?

What if I don't give my 14 yr old a cell phone? What if I ground him for skipping school? What if I let the well-adjusted appropriately-behaving biochild see a PG-13 movie that's too scary to the adopted one. Or to spend the night at a friends when I won't let the adopted child do the same? What if I don't let him go anywhere without adult supervision... at age 17... am I a bad mama?


Soon after the kids first got here we had a birthday party for Kitty. Like we'd always done for our biokids we invited family, friends, neighbors, any of her friends from school (you're supposed to give invitations to the whole class or not at all - we chose the whole class). We ended up with about 20+ kids, half of whom spent the night. Within minutes of everyone's arrival, Kitty was complaining that she didn't want everyone to play with her new game (Dance, Dance Revolution), which she'd tried and hadn't been very good at. Not long after that I discovered she had disappeared. I finally located her in her closet (it's a walk-in!) playing dolls with the youngest girl at the party (one of the girls from her special ed class).

The next year I got smart and blamed finances (not a lie) and told all the kids they could only have 4 friends over, or 2 spending the night (except Ponito who was devastated and everyone agreed he was young and deserved to have more friends over). Kitty did much better with the small group. Bob is an introvert and was fine with it. Bear's first birthday with us he'd been in residential treatment for 3 days, we'd known this was happening so had had a very small family party the weekend before. His next birthday was the day after his adoption and he just had family and a Kleenex girl there because he waited until the last second to invite anyone (I deliberately let that happen). For her next birthday, Kitty had just been released from her second psych hospitalization in a year - so we did just family - and she had to be OK with that.

This year (on Tuesday) Kitty is turning 15. She's doing very well and is pretty emotionally stable. Rather than allowing her to invite everyone she wants and go to some loud noisy place (not that we can afford that anyway), I will continue to use the finance excuse and keep her party fairly small. This is more a preventative measure than anything else. I think she can handle more than she did in the past, and she's not in the FAIR Club, but her world will probably always need to stay small. Honestly the fact that she doesn't protest much makes me think I'm making the right choice.

Paradigm shift:
Old paradigm:
  • Behavior is learned from parents
  • Children are too young to be diagnosed with mental illnesses
  • Parents need to learn to be non-toxic and less permissive
  • Child is seeking attention and is manipulatie
  • "Acting out" is respone to inner conflict from erly childhood
  • The child is ale to act appropriately but won't
  • Parents are not asked for input, provider to fix child
New paradigm:
* Behavior results from:
  • sensory overload
  • distorted perceptions and mood
  • inflexibility, anxiety, low tolerance for frustration
  • tic, "limbic storms," low impulse control,
  • low executive functioning, poor short-term memory,
  • difficulty with handwriting, cooordination.
* Child has good and bad days
* Focus on managing the illness
* Parents need extraordinary skills and support

Five Point Sar on Creating Mutual Well-Being
  1. Maintain an accurate frame of mind
  2. Build a Relationship
  3. Give useful consequences
  4. Contain/ prevent negative behaviors
  5. Coach positie behaviors

How can a traumatized child be expected to engage in reciprocal behaviors (giving) unless first their wounds are healed, they have self love and are willing and able to attach?

  • She won't reciprocate because she is wounded.

  • She can't reciprocate, because she doesn't know how and has not practiced giving behaviors.

Healing wounds and acting reciprocally are not achieved linearly or sequentially, rather they are achieved at the same time, and one advances the other.

* By the way, a LOT of this stuff is copied directly from Katharine Leslie's power points or books. I realize I haven't been saying this all along, but all of the brilliant stuff is hers and I'm sure all of the mistakes are purely my own.


Unknown said...

Wow. Brilliant. I will be coming back to read that again.

GB's Mom said...

Thanks- It has all been useful stuff.

Kerrie said...

Would you address practical ways to teach reciprocity? This is where I'm stuck.

shastastevens said...

Is that you in the pic? You look amazing!

Dawn said...

Just saw this post (yes I know it is dated, but good timing for me to read now)😎