Punishment vs Discipline – Which is best to develop good behaviour?

Like everybody our youth have their own emotions and impulses. As adults, we sometimes forget they are building their own roadmap. Good behaviour is a learning process. Helping our youth know they are not on their own in building their future and we are there for them is important.

The funny thing we forget is that being a parent is a learning process too. Sometimes we rely too heavily on our own emotions and impulses which means that when a child misbehaves and we jump straight to punishment we are missing a valuable opportunity to teach them.

Discipline vs punishment is a fine line that if you can learn how to walk the tight rope (and it is hard) you will see amazing benefits.

Let’s compare the two words and what they actually mean:

  • Punishment – means to inflict pain or suffering as a penalty. 
  • Discipline – means to teach. 

When your child makes the same poor behaviour choices again and again it can be very frustrating for you as a parent. However, the better we respond the better the results we can expect. The better we respond and reinforce good behaviour skills, the better the results we will see in our youth’s decision. 

  • The first thing to do is to decide what you actually want to achieve. What are your goals for your child when they misbehave?
  • The primary short term goal is to get them to co-operate
  • Your second longer-term goal that is usually forgotten is that it is to teach them to make better choices without the threat of punishment or consequences.
  • Think PPI. Patient, Present, and Intentional when interacting with your child.

So when developing good behaviour skills how do punishment and discipline compare?

Punishment vs. Discipline:

  • Teach your child and they will develop self-discipline skills to manage their emotions and impulses. Punishment is behaviour shut down action.
  • Discipline will develop a higher level of trust and self-confidence.
  • When you punish you will build a proverbial wall and decrease trust and self-confidence.

It is important to develop a strategy and have it in place when you are faced with disciplining your child when they misbehave.

There are 3 key steps of discipline:

  1. CONNECT – this doesn’t mean to be permissible or passive, but to set clear expectations. When your child is upset they are less likely to hear what you have to say. As your child calms down emotionally and feels your caring approach you must be patient. You must try to remain as calm as possible which is the hardest but most stress-free way to discipline. 
  2. RE-DIRECT – spell out what the poor behaviour choice was. Follow that with what the better choice may have been. Engage and be fully present in this step as it is crucial to ensure they hear you and see you are there for them. 
  3. REPAIR – Once calm has been in place and the behaviour has been discussed then discuss necessary steps on how to solve the current behaviour problem, review better choices, and set ground rules should the poor behaviour choices continue. Show them you are there for them and in this together with them. 

A good tip is that it is better to say ‘consequences’ instead of ‘punishments’ so that you are setting your intentions as goal orientated and not pain orientated. One key thing to remember is that this strategy won’t work all the time, you need to have back up plans as well.

Once you have clearly outlined the ground rules consequences are ok if you have worked through the above 3 steps and your child still disobeys the ground rules.

The key though is to match the consequence to the behaviour and make sure it is considered a reasonable consequence. For example, if they lose their temper when using a device, take that device away for 24 hours. 

One thing to remember is that children do not sense time as adults do. A week is a long period of time and will probably trigger additional anger and rage. Smaller timeframes allow them time to remember and self-correct their behaviour. It also allows you opportunities to acknowledge the behaviour change back to the incident while it is freshly in mind for both of you reinforcing the good choices.

What consequences are not ok and will do more damage than good?

  • Retroactive ones. While taking away good things such as karate lessons may seem to be a good move because it’s an activity they like a lot and the pain of losing karate will teach them a valuable lesson, it’s actually doing the opposite. Taking things they like away may cause more bad behaviour and instilling long-term distrust for you. Also consider the fact that they lose all the positive benefits their karate class teaches them such as discipline, confidence, fitness, positive social interaction, and more. 
  • Decreasing their morale. As a child’s self-esteem and morale decrease the less chance you have of them believing and making proper choices. They lose trust in themselves and begin to believe they are simply incapable of making the right choice.

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? 

Map out with your child good behaviour strategies:

  • If they hit someone then they must write a letter apologising or meet face to face with a pre-framed apology.
  • If you throw something then you lose a personal item for 24 hours
  • If you use poor manners you write a letter apologising and explain the proper manners you should have used
  • If you cause drama at bedtime then you must go to bed earlier the next night.

You need to ensure that for your consequences to work that you also provide rewards. Reward them if they go a week without misbehaving. But remember the reward should not always be material things. Use more relationship building rewards more often. They can pick the family movie or place for family dinner.

I would suggest you sit down and make a list of rewards and consequences you can refer back to so that you are prepared.

Like any change in approach be prepared to give the new strategies time. You need to be reasonable in your expectation of how long it will take to consistently make better choices. There will be ups and downs but stick to the plan and the ups should quickly outweigh the downs.

I hope this article and these strategies help you and your child make better choices.