Becoming a better parent: Discipline or punishment?

Our Westview team member, Terry Owens, writes his second post in a series, Becoming a Better Parent. His article is “Discipline or punishment?”

How we handle our children’s behavior affects our ability to communicate with them. The language we use is important. For example, we often use the words discipline and punishment as if they meant the same thing. Really, though, they represent very different ways of parenting.

When we speak of punishment, we’re using a word that means “to impose a penalty for a fault, offense, or violation” (www.merriam-webster.com). The justice system punishes criminals for committing crimes and—to discourage repeating the offense–the consequences are often harsh and uncaring.

Discipline, on the other hand, is “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (www.merriam-webster.com). Discipline is done through love and compassion for children we want to see behave better and become better people.

Punishment is retribution for bad behavior, and, though it makes a point, it damages our relationship with our children. Too often it comes from anger and frustration we experience in the moment. Punishment exerts power over children and more often makes children angry than changing their behavior permanently. If punished, our children will focus more on their anger towards us than what they did wrong. We know that as parents we have power over our children but if we use that power in anger than we seem more like a bully to our child than a parent.

Children are going to do things that upset us and feed into our anger. We need to be mindful of our emotions and how they affect our responses. Discipline is more about teaching our children the skills needed to make good choices. Taking time to talk with our children about their behavior and the reasons behind their choices will give better outcomes for the child and us.

Let’s form our questions to help them evaluate their choices. When consequences are appropriate, we should level the consequence at the behavior and not the child. During this process, we are strengthening our relationship with our child. Our child learns that when he or she makes a mistake they can come to us and we will listen to them. It’s about sharing our power with our children and giving our children a voice that is heard and respected.

Westview Boys’ Home is blessed to be a part of this community; our mission is to be a resource for our friends and neighbors. Through Westview Family Services we provide family and child counseling, parenting classes, and trauma-informed classroom training. If we can be of service, please call  (580) 688-9281 or email us at wbhadmissions@wbh.email.