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Joyful and productive lives that are rich in strong relationships come from mastering in sequence, 1) attachment, 2) responsibility and cooperation, and 3) intimacy. If an earlier stage is not mastered, the later ones cannot be mastered either. The purpose of discipline, as applied by a parent or guardian, is to help children learn responsibility and cooperation. Responsibility is the ability to make decisions with full acceptance of the consequences. Cooperation is the ability to join in activities for the joy of a mutual experience, irrespective of rewards or goals. Children feel good when they are responsible and cooperative.

Encouragement is the core of discipline. Some serious misbehavior occurs in a very small number of children that have been badly mistreated or neglected in early life. This reflects a failure to form an organized attachment and responsibility and cooperation will not be learned unless and until that is done. Overwhelmingly, however, misbehavior occurs when children are discouraged. In some families this can be a constant condition. Entire families can be discouraged, with members discouraging one another reflexively. It is almost impossible for a discouraged parent to discipline effectively, and "putting on one's own oxygen mask" is indicated. In all families, however, children become discouraged from time to time.

The tools of discipline are choices and consequences. In fact it could well be said that life is choices and consequences. A child should never be allowed to make a choice the parent cannot live with. Otherwise it's important to provide increasingly important choices as children grow, and to respect the choices children make. Part of that is not interfering with the natural consequences.

Natural consequences are those outcomes imposed by the laws of nature or the laws of society. For instance, if I forget my coat, I'm cold. If I don't eat dinner, I'm hungry later. If I don't play nice, I don't have friends. If I don't study, I fail my class. These are all natural consequences. Some natural consequences are too severe to tolerate, for instances riding a bike without a helmet and suffering a severe brain injury. In that case, the child should never be allowed to ride without a helmet. As children age, however, they must be allowed to have increasingly important choices.

Logical consequences are imposed by the parent when natural consequences are too far in the future to be instructive. For instance, a ten year old returns from a friend's house quite late, the next time he wishes to go there he is not allowed. It's essential that logical consequences be enforceable, and are related to the behavior. Logical consequences should be used sparingly since they can at times slide into the area of punishments. It is essential that parents have authentic empathy with children struggling with consequences.

Discipline is not the same as punishment. Punishments are actions that cause distress with the intention of decreasing a behavior in the future. Within a setting of warmth and abundant positive reinforcement, punishments may decrease some behaviors. In an embattled situation, however, punishment often increases resentment and sneakiness, increases discouragement, and certainly does not teach responsibility and cooperation.

Corporal punishment is inflicting pain with the intention of decreasing a future behavior. The law permits this within limits. Besides the drawbacks of all punishing actions, corporal punishment impairs the relationship between parent and child. While it may be possible for an unusually self-possessed parent to administer corporal punishment without rage, it is impossible for any parent to administer corporal punishment with empathy. It is almost unheard of for any man or woman to attribute their present day success to the regular infliction of pain during their youth. Many successful people do attribute their success to parents who were firm in their boundaries and meant what they said. Most corporal punishment occurs in the context of inconsistency.