Five Reasons to Choose Discipline over Punishment
By Jay Fitter MFT
Discipline is one of the defining elements of parenting; whether used sparingly or liberally, it’s fundamental to the parent-child dynamic. In its most basic form, discipline is a matter of choices and consequences. The parents explain their expectations for the child. If the child ignores these rules or expectations, there are consequences. The aim of these consequences is to encourage the child to stop negative behaviors, make positive choices, and ultimately become a better person.
Through discipline, children are taught to become responsible, honest, kind, sharing people. By following their parent’s guidance, teachings, and rules, they have the chance to grow up to be well-behaved and respectful individuals.
However, if you punish your child instead of disciplining them, the end result will not be the same. Did you think that punishment and discipline were the same thing? Think again!
Parents who spank or swat their children often believe that it’s not going to hurt them. After all, they were spanked by their parents. But a recent study found that after such parents were exposed to the many study findings showing the negative effects on children of corporal punishment, a significant number changed their opinion.
Here are five reasons why discipline is better than punishment.
Punishment leads to over-reacting.
The urge to punish comes from within when you feel hurt by your child’s behavior—you’re looking to strike back and inflict this same pain, often overreacting to the situation. In the heat of the moment, Mom or Dad might lash out in anger or impulsivity—even raising a hand to a child—instead of taking a deep breath and assessing the situation objectively.
Punishing doesn’t teach lessons.
Once they’re caught up in the punishment mindset, it’s hard for parents to think rationally or be compassionate. It becomes more like revenge, and doesn’t teach the child right from wrong. What specific “lesson” does a yanked and twisted arm teach? On the other hand, treating a child with respect, talking to them, and getting them to thoughtfully discuss the situation turns it into a learning opportunity.
It’s not a fair match.
A big problem with an adult punishing a child is that the two are not equals. Yet, rarely does a parent focus on this inequality or the incredible vulnerability of their child. But when calm and rational, no one would argue that children are the same as adults. They’re not the same size or strength; they have less knowledge and fewer life experiences. Furthermore, when parents punish their child out of anger, they teach kids that it’s okay to treat those who are weaker, smaller, and younger with less respect. The parent is modeling bullying behavior.
Children deserve the same respect as adults.
Consider the dozens of interactions you have with others on a daily basis. Would you punch a coworker or slap an associate across the face because they didn’t do a good job, they spoke out of turn, or they disappointed you? Of course not! In any other situation, you would react with a degree of self-control. But, for whatever reason, some parents believe that with children, they have the right to hit them out of anger.
Punishment creates a fear-based relationship.
If you frequently punish your child, consider the type of relationship you’re developing with them and the example you’re setting in regards to problem solving. You’re establishing a relationship with your child that’s built on fear. If a parent is aggressive, vengeful, and unpredictable, the child will become fearful of them. The youngster will worry about what the parent is going to do every time they make a mistake. Moreover, this fear and anxiety stay with the child later in life. They’ll be waiting to be hurt and for something bad to happen.
Bottom line: Learn new ways to correct unwanted behavior in kids and to teach positive behaviors using discipline strategies. It’s a loving, respectful,
and effective way to help them.
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Jay Scott Fitter MFT has two decades’ experience as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is a popular parenting workshop leader, speaker, and the author of a new book, Respect Your Children: A Practical Guide to Effective Parenting (familyanswerman.com).