How can we differentiate between punishing and disciplining our children?

“If you don’t stop screaming, you will not go to your friend’s birthday on the weekend!”

“Eat your lunch now, or I will take away the tablet for 5 days!”

I guess we all agree that discipline is not exactly the most enjoyable part of parenting. That said, when you and your child understand the meaning and the reason behind discipline, you will not see it as an exhausting and frustrating process.

 

“It’s your choice to clean up your toys or not, but if I clean them up, you won’t play with them for 2 days”

“If you don’t clean up your toys, I will put you in timeout for 5 minutes.”

Are you able to see the difference in both approaches?

 

 

One is teaching the children to be responsible for their decisions and accept logical consequences. It also teaches them that their behavior is their choice and you are helping them learn how to face the results of their choices. The other one disrespects their right to make a decision and does not help them to take responsibility for their behavior. It simply dictates what you want them to do!

 

When you start teaching your children that there are natural consequences for every action or choice they make, whether good or not, they will be able to learn from their mistakes and improve their behavior. “When you are kind to people, people will want to be your friends and play with you. But when you are mean and aggressive with people, they will not want to be around you.”

 

 

A common recurring question is: “Can I discipline without punishing?”
To discipline your children means to teach them how to behave using love, with firm boundaries and clear expectations. By doing this, you are helping them achieve acceptable future behavior. Discipline requires patience and energy but has long-lasting effect. To punish your children means to force them to behave using anger and fear, with no sign of love, firm boundaries and unpredictable (illogical) expectations. By doing this, you are teaching them to respond out of fear, rather than out of a desire to “do the right thing.” Punishment requires less energy and might seem to be working on a short-term basis, but in reality, it’s highly ineffective. 

 

The long-term results that might be seen in children when using natural logic consequences versus punishment are:
1. Children who are raised up with a loving discipline technique usually turn out to be critical thinkers, self- confident and responsible with an ability to acquire self-control. They are raised to be independent leaders who can be held accountable for their actions, as they get the chance to learn from their mistakes, make better choices and improve their behavior.
2. On the other hand, those children who are raised up with a fearful punishment technique may either become bullies, since their parents have modeled how to use strength or superior power to threaten them. Or may become victims of bullies since they have learned to accept their parents’ harsh punishment and felt powerless to escape or change the situation. These children may also tend to become followers as they always had to follow what their parents wanted them to do, out of fear of punishment. I would encourage you to look deeper into identifying the reason behind punishing your children and see if you can relate to any of these: some parents do it because it is a practical way to vent anger/frustration, others are copying how they were brought up as a child, some don’t know other ways of dealing with their children’s mistakes, and some simply do it as a form of exerting power and authority in order to maintain control over their children’s behavior.  If you want to know how ineffective punishment is, think of a time when you were punished as a child. What thoughts came to your mind during the punishment? Was it the reason behind your wrong action and what you had learned? Or how unfair and annoying the punishment was, what mean parents you had and how you will try your best not to be caught next time?

 

 

Time to get practical with some examples of natural consequences:
Not eating when it’s food time, you will stay hungry till the next meal.
Not putting effort to do your chores and help around the house, parents won’t put the extra effort to take you shopping.
Refusing to wear a jacket, you will be cold.
Wasting time in the morning, you will go to school with your hair unbrushed (or in your flipflops).
Forgetting your lunch box at school, you will take your lunch in a plastic bag.
Continuously losing things, you will have to buy your own things. 

 

And my favorite practical hint is: model the behavior you want to see in your children. Do not punish them for being rude, instead, model to them what respect means through respecting them. 


One thing to be aware of, make sure that consequences are clear, tangible and not very long term. For example “You’re grounded for a month” can lead children to feel hopeless and have no motivation to change. Like everything in life, it takes time, long term consistency and patience to witness the results. At the end of the day, it is your children’s choice to change their behavior; however, this should not stop you from always holding them accountable through consequences. You have an ongoing obligation to continue showing your children what to expect when making poor choices. And believe it or not, even if at times you don’t see immediate results, consequences are always at work teaching them to make better choices on the long term.

 

To Sum-it:
Are you applying your power as a parent and trying to control your children, or are you helping them learn how to control their own behavior?

 

 

Irini Girgis, the founder of Kids Summit, is a Child Behavioral and Parenting Coach. She has an 18 &16 years old boy & girl and has been living in Dubai for 13 years. Kids Summit provides personalized and customized techniques, for both children and parents, that match the child’s needs and the parents’ parenting style, with an understanding that “one size does not fit all.” Kids Summit offer close frequent follow-ups by the coach to ensure that all obstacles are overcome, and the journey is a pleasant one. 

Irini has a Child Psychology Diploma from Brentwood University, UK, coupled with Neuro-Education courses. As a mother, she experienced hands-on challenges as well as enjoyable aspects of the unparalleled journey of parenthood. Throughout the years and her ongoing experience as a teacher, she has sincerely believed that every child’s needs should be looked at from a holistic perspective. Understanding the root cause of some of the challenges the children face and helping them, and their parents overcome it became her purpose. 

Although online searching, parental sessions and group talks are helpful, families often need personal advice for their unique challenges.

 

 

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