help4yourfamily

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Discipline vs. punishment

FCC program offers child care, career - FMWRC ...

FCC program offers child care, career – FMWRC – US Army – 100916 (Photo credit: familymwr)

written by Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

People might wonder why it is that I would wish to make a distinction between discipline and punishment since we often use the terms interchangeably.  However, I believe there is an important distintion to make.

Discipline is a word that originates from the word “disciple” which means one who accepts and teaches the learnings of another.  If you think about that word, and it’s origins, we can narrow it down to discipline being about teaching.

Punishment is different and mainly refers to inflicting consequences on another.

Deutsch: Historische Federzeichnung einer schu...

Deutsch: Historische Federzeichnung einer schulischen Körperstrafe. Handschriftlicher Begleittext in Original: Tyranis di Magistrum (Tyrannei des Lehrers). Randzeichnung im Buch Lob der Torheit von Erasmus von Rotterdam English: Schoolboy receiving bare bottom birching, from a medieval source (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a quote we use in attachment to teach parents about how children learn to see themselves in the world.  It is by Thomas Cooley, “I am who I think you think I am.”  This is the truth for children.  The full quote from Cooley is actually, “I am not who I think I am; I am not who you think I am; I am who I think you think I am.”  I find this to be so true for every child I have ever seen with the “I” being the child and the “you” being their parents.  Think about your own childhood.  Did you come to know yourself as a child by virtue of what you thought your parents thought of you?  Have you ever struggled with finding out who you are as you moved away from what your parents think of you and who you are, to be who you truely are?  The same is and will be true for your children.  They believe they are who you believe them to be.  What does this have to do with punishment vs. discipline?  It gives us a framework for making decisions about what to do when our children display behaviors we find undesireable (or desireable too).  In many ways, we are Gods to them.  They are your desciples.  What will you teach them?  Or, alternately, will you punish them for things you do not like?

In case you have not figured it out, I am all for discipline, not so much for punishment.  As you will see in the other posts I have written and will keep writing, I do not believe that to teach children new behaviors we mush punish them.  In fact, I think punishment tends to do the opposite by taking the focus off of the behavior and onto their relatonship with you and the conflict you are experiencing with each other.

So, what is the big deal and how will it look different day to day?  Well, in the end, it may not look that different, the discipline framework I am referring to is more a question of the intent of you as a parent.  When we come to our children as loving teachers, the same intervention can have a different feel to the child.  For example, both a disciplinarian and a punisher might decide not to allow their child to go out the weekend after they break a curfew.  However, the disciplinarian would say something like, “Sure, you can go out until 11pm after I have learned to trust you to come in by 10 reliably.  Guess we’ll have to see whether you can do that next week.  Tonight, I want you with me so I don’t have to worry about your safety like last time.”  A punisher says something more like, “You were late last week.  You know the rules, if you break curfew you’re in for a week.”  The tone of discipline is on loving the child and expecting them to do their best for them and for you while punishment is more about, “I’m in charge and you’re in trouble.”

Lots of times discipline looks more forgiving and tolerant of a child’s choices and people can make the mistake that it is overly permissive.  Please let me clarify that discipline allows more for natural consequences with the understanding that children can learn best by age appropriate experiences.  An example of this would be allowing for a bad grade then remarking about how difficult it must be for your child to see themselves earn a grade that is beneath them.  You could also remark on how you are surprised by the grade since you know they are a good student (I am who I think you think I am).  Not only is discipline easier for us as parents (let’s face it- when your kids are punished so are you), in my view of it, we are teaching our children to love themselves and expecting that they will love and respect us in return.  By expecting and giving love and respect as part of our ongoing give and take relationship with our children, we teach them that who they are is important and worthwhile while building the foundations of positive self-esteem that will last a lifetime.

April 9, 2012 - Posted by | discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

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    Pingback by Don’t Ignore the “D” Word in Your Home. « The Narrow Road | April 25, 2012 | Reply

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    Pingback by Embarrassing Punishments Hurt Kids « PDResources | May 16, 2012 | Reply


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