Discipline vs Punishment: What outcome do we really want?

Carrie - posted on 07/18/2011 ( 2 moms have responded )




A lot of the questions lately appear to be about how to change unwanted behavior in our children. In my opinion there are a couple of good articles that discuss the difference between discipline and punishment. Often times, just how we THINK about an issue changes the dynamics of the issue itself.

Knowing the difference between discipline and punishment is important.

Discipline mean to “teach.” Discipline helps the child learn what to do and helps children and parents feel good about themselves. Discipline emphasizes nurturing and guiding and is a positive way to teach the child self-control and confidence. With discipline, parents use strategies to prevent problems plus guidance to manage conflict.

Discipline means:

* Focusing on what the child needs to do in the future.

* Relating the strategies directly to the misbehavior.

* Helping the child develop self discipline and learn how to become responsible.

* Assisting the child to accept natural or logical consequences of the misbehavior.

On the other hand, punishment:

* Focuses on what’s wrong instead of what needs to be done right.

* Consists of penalties or restrictions that often have nothing at all to do with the misbehavior.

* Puts responsibility for enforcement on the parent instead of encouraging the child to become responsible for his/her actions.

* Is concerned with making the child “pay” for what he/she did wrong.

The reason for discipline is to help children learn self-control and take responsibility for their own behavior. Children who are raised in a way that stresses positive discipline will understand their own behavior better, show independence, and respect themselves and others. When punishment is the basis for discipline, the person who punishes the child becomes responsible for the child’s behavior.

Positive discipline is a process, not a single act. It is the basis for teaching children how to get along with other people. But children who are frequently punished instead of encouraged, learn that those they depend on the most for love and care can also inflict physical and psychological pain on them.

It's possible for children to learn from their mistakes and change their behavior without punishment. Barbara Coloroso, parent educator and author of "Kids Are Worth It" says punishment "arouses resentment, and it doesn't teach a kid a whole lot of anything that's constructive. Discipline on the other hand, if you go back to the Latin roots, means to give life to a child's learning." She adds that disciplining or limit setting does four things that punishment does not; "it shows them what they did wrong, gives them ownership of the problem, gives them ways to solve it, and most importantly, it does what punishment will never do. It leaves the child's dignity intact".

When punishment is being administered it should be called punishment, not discipline, even though the outcome may be the conformity of the punished child to the parent or teacher's goals, so that from the adult's point of view discipline appears to have been achieved, with everyone working toward a goal. But the goal is the adult's goal, not the child's, and the lesson likely to be learned by the child is conformity, not self-discipline.

A child can learn self-discipline only by experiencing it, along with the experience of achievement which self-discipline makes possible. It must be a satisfying experience that the child will want to repeat. Only in this way can the child gain the motivation necessary for self-discipline, as well as to learn how to organize his life so that success is possible.

If a child creates a disturbance, bothers others, does anything for which punishment is considered a deterrent, this is evidence that, at the very least, the adult's goals have no relevance to the child's feeling at the moment. It may indicate that the child bears resentments against controlling adults, or against other people in general. Punishment can only secure conformity to goals which are neither felt nor valued by the child. The order secured by punishment or threat of punishment may satisfy the adult, but it can only teach conformity to the child, and it will almost inevitably produce resentment. Such resentment may be one of the most common and important aspects of growing up in our culture.

To a greater or lesser degree, hating authority, yet depending on it for validation of ones actions, and wanting to escape this bondage by doing things disapproved by authority is a well nigh universal experience in growing up in our culture. The punished child tends to equate "right" with conformity. Some become expert conformers and are rewarded by being considered "good" children, but even for these the "wrong" is often secretly or subconsciously attractive.

This pattern becomes a blueprint for deviance where a substantial youth subculture has emerged. Here non-conformist acts have value and gain status among peers, providing within this group a conformist avenue for expressing the pent up resentments against adults. This may at first seem conflicting, but it is not.

Individuals learn to conform at the same time that they build up the resentments and the inner desire to do "wrong." It is as uncomfortable for them to be a non-conforming rebel as it is for them to be a non-conforming self-disciplined achiever, because they have never been allowed to experience self-direction in any significant way. When drug usage, shop-lifting, sexual activity, and other actions deplored by adults are also admired and are status builders among peers, these behaviors become almost irresistibly attractive to young people, and certain kinds of deviant, delinquent behavior becomes a norm for them.

This basic mind-set holds over into adult life for many people, even though the pressures and problems of adulthood cause most adults to conform to traditional standards of behavior. But how often the "right" is thought to be sober, dull and boring, even though necessary, while "wrong" or "sin" is equated with fun, pleasure, excitement, thrills. Alas, it is not so, and the confusion leads many into unsatisfying lives. Is this the reason that so many otherwise sensible people love to lose their inhibitions through the use of alcohol, to enable them to express those otherwise repressed desires to do "wrong?" But it is the "good" life that is consistently satisfying and fun. "Wrong" is destructive and ultimately painful, lonely and sad. the greatest fallacy of our culture is that sin is fun.

Discipline stands in opposition to punishment because it is a positive force that operates in an atmosphere of love, respect and individual responsibility. Obedience carries overtones of the threat of punishment. DO we want obedient children, who may be docile and well-behaved in the presence of adult authority, but who may be willing to try to "get away" with something foolish as soon as they think they are not observed? Don't we want responsible children who, to the limit of their ability to discern and understand, take responsibility for their own safety and welfare? Don't we want them to have enough love and respect and sensitivity to us as parents that when a parent says "wait" or "stop" with a note of urgency they will want to wait or stop till they have learned what is causing that concern? This might superficially be seen as obedience but isn't it really a very different relationship? Don't we want them to respect us enough to want to give serious consideration to our long range concerns for their welfare, often being willing to give up personal desires in order to please a parent, even though they may not fully understand the reasons?






View replies by

Join Circle of Moms

Sign up for Circle of Moms and be a part of this community! Membership is just one click away.

Join Circle of Moms