When it comes to parental discipline, a group of dominoes players at the Tucumcari Senior Center Thursday seemed to agree on one thing.
“An undisciplined child is a handicapped child,” Jeanette Fister, a retired mother of two boys said.
However, the boundaries and methods for disciplining children are not set in stone and vary widely between households. Michael Shaughnessy, a professor of special education at Eastern New Mexico University, said how and when to discipline a child depends on the child’s age, gender and the type of infraction the child has committed.
Shaughnessy emphasized that parents should understand the difference between discipline and punishment, which is just one part of the larger effort to instill discipline in a child’s life.
“Discipline can be setting rules and regulations. It can be structure, it can be allowing natural consequences to take place, or it can be what you and I conventionally think of as punishment where the kid has to go to his room, where he doesn’t get dessert, the kid loses out on TV, the kid gets a stern talking to … so discipline really varies,” Shaughnessy said.
One issue that can divide families is whether or not a parent or caregiver should spank their kids as a disciplinary measure. Milton Brown, a 35-year-old railroad worker from Tucumcari, said he has only had to spank his two girls, Desiree, 11, and Aaliyah, 8, once so far.
“I guess it was good enough because they do listen,” Brown said.
Brown said he is more inclined to put his girls in “time out” if they misbehave.
“If they don’t want to listen, then you go to your room. No TV, no games, nothing like that. I’ve never called it time out but I guess it’s a form of time out,” Brown said.
Brown said he was spanked by his mother as a child and that he was a relatively well-behaved adolescent who stayed out of trouble.
Shaughnessy emphasized the need for positive reinforcement in a child’s upbringing, saying that spanking cannot teach a child what to do, but can only tell them what not to do. He also mentioned the potential for physical injury to the child.
“Spanking is not the best way,” Shaughnessy said. “It works sometimes. The situation is this: Certain things work in the short run but they don’t work in the long run. You can get an immediate-type reaction but a negative chain reaction over a long period of time. It’s kind of like if I yell at you, I get your attention right away, but then I have to gradually escalate and get louder and louder. That starts to require more and more energy. You can succeed in the short run but it doesn’t help you in the long run,”
Jessie Robinson, a Tucumcari resident and mother who works with the Quay Council for Arts and Humanities and the local extension office, was at the dominoes table Thursday. She said that spanking works as a disciplinary tool precisely because it gets an immediate reaction from the child.
“You have to do what’s appropriate, and sometimes for the issue of a child’s safety, if you give them a swat on the bottom it’s not going to kill them, but it gets their attention. Like if a kid runs out in the street, you’ve got to do something immediate,” Robinson said.
Shaughnessy and Robinson agreed that whenever parents or caregivers punish their children, they need to make the reason for punishment clear or the punishment will be ineffective.
Regardless of the method, every parent interviewed said discipline is vital to a child’s well being.
“Deal with it early and don’t have to deal with it later, or don’t deal with it early and pay the price for it later,” Brown said.