Discipline or Punishment?

Discipline or Punishment?

by Muriel Jarvis

Many parents confuse discipline and punishment. They’re often afraid to discipline their children as a result. But good discipline isn’t about punishment – it’s about teaching and guiding children, rather than just forcing them to obey.

Often parents will ‘take charge’ when a child has misbehaved. They will respond with groundings or instructions about how the problem needs to be resolved. Then when the child resists and ‘digs in their heels’, the parents will feel frustrated. So what is a parent to do?

Child and family counsellor Michelle Moreau says that parents need to recognize that problem behaviour is an opportunity for children to learn more appropriate or acceptable behaviour. “Through effective discipline, children can learn some valuable life lessons, which can include responsibility for their actions and the confidence to resolve problems on their own.”

There is no one magical formula for disciplining children, because all are different! For this reason, Ms. Moreau states that parents need to think through their approach to discipline in an effort to make sure that it is a positive and effective influence on the child.

Ms. Moreau says that natural consequences are often the most effective at teaching the child how to make good decisions. “For instance, a parent asks their child to put their dirty laundry in the hamper, but their child neglects to do this. When the parent does the laundry, therefore, the child’s clothes are not cleaned. The child will be upset that their clothing has not been washed, but they will learn to put the laundry in the hamper next time.”

Even though natural consequences can be very effective at teaching discipline, it’s important that parents use their judgement. The safety and security of the child should never be put at risk. Some things are not negotiable, such as wearing sunblock, brushing their teeth, or running out in front of cars. Some natural consequences are too severe!”

About The Author
Muriel Jarvis is the past Executive Director of Family Plus/Life Solutions, a United Way agency in Saint John, with over 20 professional counsellors delivering counselling, education and wellness services.