Parenting the Difference between Disciplining and Punishing your Child

Discipline may involve punishment from time to time but is generally part of a much bigger process. When not part of a broader strategy, punishment is often the result of anger a child misbehaves and the parent responds.

Children thrive when they have a structured environment and a set of boundaries in which to act. They feel much more secure knowing that the parent is in charge.

An unstructured environment where anything goes is the rule is very insecure for the child. The child may experience a degree of role confusion, and starts dictating to the parent what should happen. Under these circumstances, no-one is happy. The child is insecure and has tantrums and other behavioural problems. The parents are at their wits end to manage the situation.

A structured environment is one where the child knows that the parent is in charge. He knows the consequences of his actions, and that these are applied consistently. The rules are the parent’s domain, and the child adheres to them or faces expected consequences.

A young child is not ready to take on the role of the parent. Where structure is lacking, it may feel as if the parents are out of control and the child has to take over. This leads to insecurity and frequent fights between parent and child. Tantrums last forever and eventually the parent gives in leading to a spoilt child and eventually to a spoilt adult!

Children need rules. They need to know that the parent is the boss. They need to know that tantrums will not work. They know what time is bed time. They know the bounds of expected behaviour. Such an environment makes communication and quality time between parents and children a possibility.

Discipline is the consistent application of the rules that prevail in a family. A child that breaches the rules will face the consequences. The consequences are pre-defined and predictable. The child knows exactly what to expect.

A school may provide a disciplined environment in much the same way. Its task is made much simpler when the child has been brought up with boundaries at home.

Punishment is often not the result of discipline. Rather it is the expression of the unbridled anger of an exasperated parent of teacher. The administering of punishment in anger essentially where the parent or teacher has lost control is not effective and is likely to be repeated often. The only way to solve situations such as these lies in creating a controlled disciplined environment with rules, boundaries and defined penalties for their infringement.