Discipline, Consequences, and Punishment. Often these three words are used interchangeably. This happens because we often aren’t careful with how we apply these. But I think as we raise our kids, it’s important to understand the differences. In this post I hope to bring out those differences, describe examples of each, and give some guidance to parents on how to apply these appropriately.
The word discipline simply means “to teach.” That’s why the twelve who followed Jesus in the Bible were called disciples – they were there to be taught by Jesus. Discipline is how we teach our children the behaviors that we expect from them.
Consequences are nothing more than results. Consequences have a negative connotation. A consequence of a bad behavior should be bad. That’s how lessons are learned. However, a consequence can also be a positive event. Think about the time that you spend at work. When you do something well, doesn’t it feel good when the consequence is a bonus or time off, or just an attaboy?
Punishment is an unnatural negative consequence to a behavior. Most commonly, it’s the tool that we use to teach our child a lesson. Punishments can come in many forms. There is corporal punishment, commonly known as spanking. There are also time-outs, grounding, and scolding.
Now that we know the definitions, how do we apply them properly? Many of us that are my age and older will attest to the liberal application of punishment in our childhood. While we survived, and in some cases have thrived, modern behavioral psychologists believe that there is a better way.
First, they believe in the power of positive parenting. If you’ll check out the article we discussed on Episode 6 of The Real Family Guys Podcast, you see the results of a long-term study of this behavior. Positive parenting involves affirming the right behaviors instead of punishing the wrong behaviors. This is known as positive reinforcement.
Secondly, natural consequences are emphasized over punishment. This allows a child to learn from their own mistakes. In some situations, this is much more powerful and effective than the parent constantly reminding the child to do the right things. Don’t we all learn the best lessons from our own mistakes?
Finally, they believe that a child should learn how to make choices. Presenting them with “this or that” situations empowers them to choose. And providing reason and rationale for their decisions, and yours, should help them make informed choices the next time around.
The emphasis is on discipline and consequence. A favorable side-effect of this practice is that a child learns to build internal discipline and self-control. But will you be able to totally eliminate punishment? After all, punishment is a part of the rehabilitative process for adult offenders. I don’t know any parent who has avoided using punishment completely. If you have, please comment below – I’m sure others would love to know your secrets.
What works best for your child? That is the million-dollar question. Who can answer that? The parents. It won’t come easy, and you can’t apply a six-point test to determine what works. What it will take is knowing your child. Knowing their personality style and how they respond. Knowing what makes them tick and what sets them off. Knowing whether they rebel or conform in different situations. And knowing that each child is unique, and that what works for one won’t necessarily work for another.
Whatever your approach, remember that it’s all about discipline and teaching your child.
Application Questions – When was the last time we gave a positive consequence to our children doing the right thing? Have you ever tried natural consequences? Are you able to avoid all forms of punishment in lieu of alternative options?
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