Punishment vs. Discipline and Good Behavior
Good behavior is a learning process for children, and understanding that we are their models and the roadmap the follow is important. Children usually behave based on their emotions and impulses. At the same time, being a parent is also a learning process and sometimes we rely on our own emotions and impulses to teach. Usually, that means we resort to punishments when a child misbehaves, missing a crucial opportunity to teach them. With that said, I am going to break down how to teach good behavior through discipline vs. punishment.
Let’s compare the two words and what they mean:
• Punishment – means to inflict pain or suffering as a penalty.
• Discipline – means to teach.
It’s understandable that we as parents can get frustrated when a child misbehaves, specifically when they make the same poor behavior choices over and over. At the same time, if we have a clear objective to teach them good behavior skills, then we can respond to their behavior more effectively. The better we respond, the better the results.
What are our goals for our children when they misbehave?
• Our first goal should be to get them to cooperate. This is primarily a short-term goal.
• The second goal that we don’t always consider, is more long-term, and that is to help them make better choices without the threat of punishment or consequences.
Ultimately, we need to blend these goals as often as possible, which requires us to be patient, present, and intentional.
Now, let’s look at how punishment and discipline compare when accomplishing our goal of developing good behavior skills…
Punishment vs. Discipline:
• Punishment may shut down a behavior for the short-term, but if insteead you teach your child the skills they need to managing their emotions and impulses, you help them develop the self-discipline that they will need to thrive as they grow up.
• When you discipline, you strengthen your relationship and help them understand trust and increase their self-confidence.
• When you punish, you build a proverbial wall and decrease their trust in you as well as lower their self-confidence.
With that said, it makes sense to have a strategy for disciplining a child when they misbehave…
The 3-stages of discipline:
1. CONNECT – this doesn’t mean to be permissible or passive, but to ensure that as you begin to set clear expectations, your child calms down emotionally and feels your loving/ caring approach. When a child is upset, they are less likely to hear what you are saying. You must be patient so that you remain as calm as possible during the process, which is the hardest but most stress-free way to discipline.
2. RE-DIRECT – list out what the poor behavior choice was as well as what the proper behavior choice is. This requires you to be present so that you can clearly express the desired outcome.
3. REPAIR – discuss necessary steps on how to solve the current behavior problem, review better choices, and set ground rules should the poor behavior choices continue. This requires you to be intentional in your actions so that your long-term goals start to take shape.
Of course, this strategy won’t work all the time, so it’s also important to have a backup strategy. For starters, it’s better to say ‘consequences’ instead of ‘punishments’ so that your intentions are more goal-oriented versus pain-oriented.
When are consequences ok?
• Only after you’ve you have worked through the 3 steps of discipline and your child still intentionally disobeys the ground rules.
What type of consequences is ok?
• One that matches the behavior. For example: if the child throws her iPad in an impulsive rage, then taking away her iPad for 48 hours is a considered a reasonable consequence. (A week is a long period and could potentially trigger more anger and rage. The goal is to teach them, but also empower them to self-correct their behavior in the future. The smaller time frame will teach her that throwing things is not acceptable, but at the same time, you trust that she will re-correct this behavior within the next few days.)
What type of consequence are not ok?
• One that is retroactive. For example: taking away good things isn’t the best consequence, such as Taekwondo lessons, which positively reinforces self-discipline. Although parents may think this is a good move because it’s an activity they like a lot and the pain of losing Taekwondo will teach them a valuable lesson, it’s doing the opposite. Pain infliction based on taking away something they like may cause more misbehavior and instill long-term damage in their trust for you. Also, strongly consider the fact that they lose all the positive benefits Taekwondo reinforces such as discipline, confidence, fitness, positive social interaction, and more.
• One that decreases morale. For example: taking away something that shame the child, which decreases self-esteem. Public humiliation will leave a permanent footprint in the child’s brain, specifically a negative one. For every negative footprint left, self-esteem and morale decrease. The more children lack self-confidence and moral, the lesser chance you have of them believing in themselves to make proper behavior choices.
So, what do you do if you have a child that is misbehaving all the time with bits of rage, back-talking, and defying the rules?
• You map out a productive strategy that includes a method for building proper behavior habits along with pre-determined consequences. For example: if you hit someone, then you must write a letter to the person you hit (or if you are younger, you must apologize face to face with a specific pre-framed apology).
• If you throw something, then you lose a personal item for 48 hours.
• If you show poor manners, then you must re-enact the proper manner if you are younger, or write a letter about having better manners. All of this should be pre-framed.
• If you wake up late for school because you stayed up late the night before, then you must go to bed an hour earlier for the next two days.
• At the same time, if you want consequences to work then you also need rewards. Reward your child when she goes a week without misbehaving. (This time frame may be shorter or longer depending on the child.) Also, the best rewards are not material things, but more relationship-building rewards. For example, she can pick to go to a family movie or a special place for a family dinner.
• My suggestion is to make a list of rewards and consequences so that you are prepared.
Now, what if you’ve tried this strategy and it doesn’t work?
• For starters, be sure to give it time. If you are struggling with your child, then you must be reasonable on how long it will take to develop better behavior choices. It won’t happen overnight, and at the same time, she may get better and then fall off track again.
• However, if you’ve tried these strategies for a solid month with no success, then the next step might be to talk to an expert, read books on parenting skills or speak with a counselor.
Bottom line, the three biggest takeaways from this are:
• Discipline is the better, more positively-productive method for instilling long-term behavior skills.
• Connect, re-direct, and repair is the 3-step method for developing self-discipline skills.
• When necessary, the consequences are more productive than punishments. Avoid consequences that are retroactive or ones that decrease morale. Be sure to add rewards as well.
I hope this article sheds some light on how to help your child make better behavior choices!