Is there a difference between punishment and discipline?
It’s an age-old question and for generations parents and caregivers will argue what the most effective parenting strategies are, and it would appear that the division lines are still strong.
Is spanking necessary?
Do time outs work?
Is yelling harmful?
Does counting to 3 work?
Should we provide kids with rewards?
The questions can go on. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves what is the purpose of discipline and what does that look like. Many parents/caregivers may think that discipline just involves implementing a consequence for unfavorable behaviours.
Let’s first define what a parental punishment is - that being the infliction of a penalty as a retribution for a wrong doing. Many parents agree to this day that disciplining a child with a spanking or placing them by themselves in a corner is a necessity. Others will adopt differing approaches and remove privileges such as media/game use via screens or outings with friends.
Without getting into a further divide of the do’s and don’ts of parenting lets discuss what the aim of discipline is. Discipline comes from a place that aims to guide, instruct, and inform children on how to behave. Its goal is not short sighted and nonspecific like a punishment or consequence.
When thinking about what characteristics we want our children to display as future adults, what comes to mind? Do you want them to be respectful, resilient, self-motivated, empathetic, compassionate? Or perhaps develop problem solving skills?
Now have a think….
Will yelling and screaming at your child teach them to be respectful?
Will hitting your child teach them compassion and empathy?
Will offering rewards for good grades and completing simple chores teach them self-motivation.
Does intervening into every task they need to complete (even simple ones such as cleaning their room) teach them self-sufficiency?
Will interfering and stopping arguments with siblings each time teach them how to self-resolve interpersonal conflicts ?
The goal of discipline is long term, and the objective is to have children learn from their mistakes, not repeat them. Punishments can have their place in certain contexts, but keep in mind that its objective is short sighted and tends to foster fear of reprisal if they display certain behaviours.
Unfortunately, many parents and caregivers will only enact short term solutions.
For example, let’s consider the ever popular ‘time out’ tactic fro younger children. Do parents and caregivers actually think that small children are able to sit and reflect what they have done? Most likely not as depending on their age they will unlikely having the emotional processing skills. The problem with only enacting measures such as ‘timeout’ ‘spanking’, ‘removing privileges’ or making threats is that it fails to actually teach or guide them how to appropriately respond in the future. Without implementing the guidance whilst you simultaneously feel the need to punish or threaten, children may keep responding with unfavourable ways of behaving, as they are not being taught what behaviours will provide them with what they want or need or what is deemed appropriate.
When you punish with the intent for the child to be remorseful or pay for their mistake, it doesn’t help them learn how to respond differently or make better choices in the future. Constant punishment can lead to power struggles and children may eventually learn that poor behaviours get attention, and it could lead them to keep doing it.
Remember, discipline takes into consideration the long -term goals. Correcting childrens behaviours requires you to give them the positive tools to learn an alternative behaviour.
Role playing is but one example of this. Take an instance whereby your child is snatching toys from another and he throws a tantrum because you have removed him for time out. It is also necessary in this instance prior to whisking him away that you show him how to respond.
“I‘d like to play with the truck please, can I have a turn?
(Obviously communicating is key here and depending on the age of your child situations and contexts of what you are role playing will change)
Short term appropriate punishments may have their place in the role of parenting, but consistent role modeling and guidance of how to respond is necessary should you want them to act appropriately as they mature.
An important element here is not to expect your child to respond appropriately after one or two rounds of role playing. Many parents expect immediate ‘pay offs’ when looking for strategies to address childrens apparent misbehaviors. Perhaps this may be the reason why parents become reactive and their ‘go to’ strategy is a mild threat or punishment.
So the important element to note here is that punishments and threats without the consistent guidance will not provide your child with the tools to emulate more positive behaviour.
Punishments and threats without guidance will increase your power as a parent/caregiver in the short term, but you will eventually lose your influence.