Why and How to Punish Children

A modern approach to discipline

“If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent.” -Bette Davis

The art of discipline is a timeless challenge, as evidenced by the proverb from thousands of years ago: “train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Furthermore, child discipline sits on pillars of passion and family tradition, making the topic of punishment supremely sensitive, with ardent advocates and fervent opponents of spanking, time-outs, and whatever other punishments families concoct. Fortunately, modern behavior psychology has come up with some keys to success, helping us in the intimidating battle of making ready the adults of tomorrow. 

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Before you decide what kind of discipline you will impose on your children, you must first understand the purpose of and difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is an act of consequence for a mistake already committed, with an emphasis on the consequence rather than the behavior. The discipline focuses on training and correcting behavior with maturity and future success in mind. Parents may choose to spank their children whenever they misbehave, regardless of the situation, with the idea that the child will associate the pain with the behavior, and prevent them from repeating that behavior. 

Modern behavioral psychologists have found that the more closely linked a consequence is to its behavior, the quicker a child will learn the association and change that behavior. If a teenager were to break his or her curfew, behavioral psychologists would perhaps suggest that a parent could make the curfew earlier for a set amount of time to teach the teenager to respect that boundary. Rather than forbidding any outside activities for poor performance in school, behavioral psychologists may recommend parents increase the amount of time a child spends on homework or just on the particular suffering subject to help the child get caught up and to teach them to work ethic. 

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Regardless of the specific consequences, you set in place for inappropriate behavior, two important components must be in place for discipline to be successful – consistency and sincerity. If you allow a child to get away with a behavior sporadically, they will not learn that it’s wrong. They will also not learn to respect your authority and may start to question it in other areas. Setting clear rules and boundaries with clear consequences is crucial, but sticking to them is even more important. Be firm and loving, while making sure they understand the connection between the behavior and the consequence. 

Lastly, teach your children by example. You can tell them a hundred times not to swear, but if they hear you swearing repeatedly they will not believe you when you tell them it’s bad. Show them how to be honest, how to work hard, how to respect others, and how to be patient. Show them the importance of being kind to others and accepting responsibility for your actions. They will remember a lot more from what you do than from what you say. Just being a good example will make a much longer-lasting impact than any amount of chores or grounding your children may be subjected to.

“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you,” said Robert Fulghum, author of All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Parenting is a tough job, and seeing your children make mistakes is never fun. Discipline, however, is critical for their development. By teaching your children to respect rules and boundaries and to be accountable for their behavior and how it affects others, you are preparing them to be responsible, self-disciplined adults. 

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