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Discipline vs. Punishment

by on 26/03/2013 5602

“Why are you so stubborn to listen to me! Stay still or you’ll get it from me!”

“How many times do you want me to remind you? Are you so useless that you can’t even get this done?”


Pretty harsh remarks, huh? Pardon me for making such a start, but most of us tend to fall unknowingly into the trap of punishing our young ones, don’t we? Much as we meant well, ironically our children will still get the wrong picture about our intention. Ultimately, their future endeavour will bear the imprint of what you’ve said or done to them.


So, do you still want to punish your children physically or verbally - which mostly backfires? Or do want to focus on better ways to DISCPLINE them?


There’s actually a huge difference between “punishment” and “discipline”. You may have wondered the following questions regarding discipline. Aren’t child supposed to feel ashamed and guilty for his misbehaviour? Will child repent if he is not spanked? Why should I change the way to teach child, when it’s how I grew up- and I’m doing perfectly fine today?


In essence, punishment controls child’s behaviour through pains or unpleasant experiences. It only stops his undesired behaviour for a short time, which teaches them how to avoid being caught instead. Discipline, on the other hand, teaches him self-control, giving him awareness about the benefit of doing right thing- and doing things right. 


So, does it mean that we should totally deny the role of punishment in nurturing our child? Like it or not, we still can’t do without giving punishment when we really need to be stern and convey serious message “You’ve better stop it now before you cross the line!” to child. As long as we administer the right methods, we can still “teach him a lesson” without losing his respect. Generally, punishment takes four forms as the following:


Physical Punishment

Spanking, slapping, pinching, pulling hair, removing cloth, hitting child with objects such as belt, etc.


Verbal Punishment


Ridiculing, threatening, belittling, crushing child’s self-esteem with cruel words for instance “You’re not worth my love”


Withholding Rewards


*Deny child of pleasant experience (especially rewards) due to misbehaviour.


“There’s no TV for you today since you haven’t shown me any of your completed homework.” 



*Take away something valuable-to your child-or make him to do something that is unfavourable to him.   


“You were so laid-back at school today, so go and do 20 push-ups now.”



Physical and verbal punishment encouraged child to resent or fear of parents. What’s even worse, it might imply to the child that these punishments are the ways adults solve problems. Imagine how this misleading message such as I should hit and scold those who don’t listen to me” is going to affect him. As for penalties, it may devalue or even create phobia in them for the exercise- for example, push-ups. Out of the four methods, withholding rewards is the most effective way to discipline the child, as well as the most ideal punitive method.


Now, understanding will never suffice unless we practise it. Assuming that we would like to our child to have better self-control and discipline in doing homework, let’s see what the better way we can use are:


1. Give Child Realistic Expectations  

It’s always the best to start good habit from young. If you have a toddler, create an environment, which enables him to anticipate what is expected of him. For instance, when his siblings are doing homework or when we are doing paperwork, this will be the best opportunity for us to educate him. Allow him to get the idea of completing the work whenever he is assigned. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t’ expect him to always have the best behaviour, especially after a long afternoon at the mall, or when his day is overwhelmed with activities. 


2. Handle Child’s Misbehaviour Calmly Like CEO

This method is to facilitate you in finding the correct tone to keep your child’s conduct in check. Let’s assume that home is a company, wherein you are the CEO while your child is a respectable staff- in what tone are you going to talk to him when he underperforms? Talk to him in unsure or questioning tone? Get angry or emotional? Believe it or not, none of these is going to give him the awareness about his misconduct; he will just feel guilty momentarily, if any at all. Our child can only find comfort when we take control of the situation effortlessly. What he needs from us is the clarity about his mistake, not guilt or shame.


A simple example will be “I will keep your Ipad safe with me until you have done your homework. Since you’ve been skiping on your work, then no more fun time for you” Remember to react promptly to nip his misbehaviour in the bud, or you will have to wait for the next chance.


Also, bear in mind that when you show your dissent towards your child, you should make your point clear that you are not upset at your child, but rather at his behaviour. Next time when you are about to say “I’m really upset at you”, swallow it back and say this instead: “It really upset me to see you not paying attention to do your homework!” 


3. Make Child Aware Of “Consequence”

Find it hard to curb your anger, especially when you are in a fit of rage? Here is the “hassle-free” solution for you!  Humans, including children, learn the best through experience. Therefore, let your child to learn the “hard way”- experience the consequence of his actions.  You can tell him what the consequence for his action is, and then allow him to make choice. What he needs to know, is that he has to take responsibility for his every action.


For instance, when he doesn’t do his homework, he won’t be able to do well in his exam- this is known as natural consequences. This will expose child to the natural order of the world. To make him sees the consequence more seriously, you can tell him in advance you will withdraw his rewards if he doesn’t take a proper action.


Besides, logical consequence is the outcome that results from your child’s behaviour logically. For instance, when your child gets punishment from teacher for not doing his homework, and he complains to you, you can explain to him, firmly yet friendly that “I’m sorry to hear about this, but this is what you are going to get when you don’t do your homework.” Once bitten twice shy. Aware of the consequence, he will soon learn his way and not repeat it again. This will be able to educate him to be responsible for his action.


As compared to natural consequence, logical consequence gives parents more flexibility to “design” the consequence, depending on the child’s behaviour. For example, giving child no clean clothes to wear definitely makes sense when he has his dirty clothes strewn everywhere.  However, if you don’t like the “consequence”, you can just “customize” it, as long as it doesn’t defeat the purpose.


4. Make Disciplining Consistent

This suggests you not to be capricious when it comes to disciplining your child. If you ban him from cycling with his friends when he doesn’t do his homework, be consistent with it, no matter what.  Don’t give in to him just because he had a hectic day, or threw tantrums. Always, child needs to experience the consequence numerous times before he gets the message.


5. Offer Child A Choice, And Show How To Make Amends

Quite often we will face the situations when child feels restless or laid-back. Are you going to just yell at him or let him be? Under this situation, child’s brain usually will momentarily stop functioning and look for the choices available to spur him moving on. So, just give him the choice!

“Now you can choose to finish your homework, or after going out with your friends”

This will give him the final push to complete his task. Or you can also show him how to break his action into achievable “small actions” to be responsible for his behaviour, for instance “Why don’t you complete half of your homework now, and the remaining after coming back from your playing with friends?” 

Refrain yourself from giving him close-ended questions, such as “Will you do your homework now?”- which leave them no choice but to answer Y-E-S.     

There is no bad child; but there are just parents who don’t know how to educate the child. Discipline your child with unconditional love- instead of punishing him and deprive him of love- when he needs your care the most. View his misbehavior as his cry for attention, and I’m sure it will help you to make a better choice to discipline him the next time!