Remember when you were a kid and told the neighborhood bully to pick on someone his own size? As parents, it's easy to forget that our children are not our own size. It's easy to confuse punishment with discipline.
Punishment, either mental or physical beats up a person or brings them down. Discipline teaches self control. Parents weren't meant to bully their children with punishment. We are meant to teach our children to learn social norms and control themselves within those norms.
Years ago, I went to a church retreat. One of the exercises we had to do was to turn to the people on either side of us and say, "You are worthy." That was easy, but there was a catch. In the second part of the exercise we had to turn to the same people and say, "I am worthy." That is amazingly difficult to do! Too many of us grow up thinking we aren't worthy, we aren't beautiful, and we don't fit in.
I am convinced that this feeling of unworthiness is the result of years of punishment, from parents, teachers, bosses, and ultimately from "beating up" on ourselves.
One day as I was shopping, ahead of me at checkout was a father and child. The child wanted candy and the father said no. When wheedling and pleading didn't work, the child went into a full-blown, lie on the floor, kicking and screaming tantrum. Without a word, her father scooped her up and wrapped his arms around her, holding her close to his chest. For a few moments, the child continued kicking and screaming. The kicking stopped and the screaming dissolved to crying. Within just a few minutes, the child was completely quiet.
It was one of the most beautiful examples of parenting I have ever seen. The message was clear: "I won't allow this kind of behavior but I still love you." I can't help but believe that the child felt the love in that embrace and the safety of knowing the strength of her father's love for her. I don't, of course know how she 'turned out' but I was and still am envious of that father. I wish I had dealt with my children in the same way.
I used to think that a swat on the bottom was okay in a dangerous situation, such as if a child runs into the street. But, children don’t see the world the same way adults see it. If you spank your child to teach him to not run into the street, they still don’t understand that you have hurt them to save them from more hurt. Even if you tell them that is why, they understand that you have hurt them to get your own way, to make them comply with your rules. Everything you do for a child should be love-based and recognizable as such. That will teach your child how to be effective in solving his/her own problems and that resorting to violence is never a solution.
As parents we need to impress upon our children that everybody messes up at one time or another and when we do, there are consequences we must pay for our errors in judgment. However, just as important we must also imprint on our children that they are indeed worthy of our love.