How to Teach Children about Discipline without Punishment

What's Covered

In a study by Western University “Parenting concerns in the US in 2012”, the statistics show parents are very concerned about behavior and, social and emotional skills which come second at 21% after health and safety at 27%.

Behavior molding is an integral part of raising a child. The general concerns of a parent are the physical and mental wellness of a child. Therefore, a parent must discipline a child and remember the positive or negative effects of the approach he/she chooses. Discipline isn’t just about consequences and punishment. It’s more about the maintenance of honorable conduct.

It shocks most parents when told that they can discipline without punishment. The punishment may be implemented with affection, but you may overlook the effect of punishment on a child’s mental and social wellness. Choose an approach that will guide your child to do the right thing, even in your absence.

Distinctions between Discipline and Punishment

If you’re thinking it’s impossible to guide a child without spanking or grounding, then you are of the opinion that there is no discipline without punishment.

Discipline

Discipline is the act and effort invested by a parent, schoolteacher, guardian, or any adult in authority, to train a child towards the right conduct. Teach him to use self-discipline to guide him in making the right decision. You need your child to want to behave well through your guidance even when you’re not with him.

Discipline aims to teach the child how to control his reactions and emotions. Guide your child to apply restraint and self-control, and acceptance of the responsibilities and repercussions for his actions.

Discipline intends to bring out a sensible and conscientious child. As a parent, you wish the child to be accountable and remorseful after doing something wrong.

Modern parenting emphasizes sympathizing with the child when the aftereffects are unpleasant while allowing the consequence to take its course. This will let the child acknowledge only he can right the wrong behavior and not be resentful when taking responsibility for the outcome of an ill one.

The old school of thought asserts that discipline and consequences go hand in hand. It supports time-outs, withholding privileges and, retribution. While these approaches achieve immediate effect to stop the intended misconduct through fear, they don’t guide on how to manage the same in the future.

Punishment

Does punishment bring behavior change? Yes, it does.

Punishment may and in most cases give immediate results in behavioral change. This is due to fear for punishment that will make the child stop, and not because he recognizes the wrong. The bigger question is, how do you expect the child to keep up the pleasant habit if he doesn’t recognize that he’s wrong?

Most children become resentful and angry after a punishment. They will sulk and keep to themselves. The child may cease the act for a while or may scheme other means to hide the behavior. Well, it results in the child not changing for the better, but devising cleverer ways at hiding and defending a vice.

Therefore, punishing a child for one wrong act may lead to the child picking another wrong act. For instance, a child may lie to avoid being punished for neglecting a duty. The child may become a liar just to avoid punishment, or defensive whenever caught in an act. In the end, you lose the aim, which was to correct and maintain exemplary conduct.

Just like you dislike anyone in authority to shout, reprimand or embarrass you, it’s the same with a child. It goes to say that punishment will and may stop the vice, but it will not give the intrinsic desire for the child to want that change from within. And that is what you should be after.

The psychological effect of punishment makes a child resentful and vengeful. This may give rise to a bully since the child feels the need to impact pain on others just as you impacted it on him. He also becomes hurtful because he internalizes the need to achieve what he wants from others through punishment or hurtful language.

Punishment cannot guide a child to better behavior because the child may behave well in your presence due to fear. In your absence, your kid will resort to the ill behavior because he knows there is no one to punish him.

Why Should You not Use Punishment when Guiding a Child?

Punishment brings an immediate cessation of ill behavior in a child due to fear. Some people who stand by the phrase “Spare the rod, spoil a child” rule, will approve that the behavior change is the goal. But the aftermath can devastate a child’s social and mental health. There is a clear report on the effects of punishment on children by Elizabeth Gershoff. [1] Here are some effects of punishment:

1. Leads to Poor Quality of Parent-Child Relationship

When you punish a child for misbehaving or neglecting a duty, all a child sees is an angry and unloving parent ready to inflict pain. The child listens to you because of the parental authority, but not out of love and respect. As a parent, you may think the goal was to stop the behavior, but it makes the child focus on your behavior instead of his own. The child may feel unappreciated and becomes resentful.

Your child may never be comfortable addressing an issue with the you. You lose the openness and closeness with your child. This disconnection of the parent-child relationship prevents you from getting close to the child to get to the underlying issues.

2. You Lose the Objective of Discipline

When a child adapts to punishment, he may come up with ways to do the very act without getting caught. Also, he gets used to getting spanked, grounded, and time-outs. He feels he can get away with anything because what’re a few days without a phone or TV?

The child overlooks the punishment since you accustom him to it, and knows that after the punishment, life goes on.

Once you punish the child, he feels he has paid his due. Hence, the lack of accountability. The parent needs the punishment to stop what the child should not do, but it does not guide on what the child should otherwise do.

3. Leads to Antisocial Behavior.

When you punish a child, he may become resentful to you, his peers, and other adults. When you use anger and pain to get a desirable action from him, he uses the same on others.

No one wants to be around an angry child. This affects a child’s social life, since he may lack intersocial skills needed to make new friends, to be accommodating and nice to others. The child may not even know that his aggressiveness is causing him a great deal in his social life. 

His resentfulness and bullying may cause his peers to reject him. He ends up a lonely kid. The child may believe in using violent and hurtful language in a love relationship. He maintains no meaningful relationship because he doesn’t know how to care.

4. Effect on Mental Health

Physical punishment may have a devastating effect on a child’s mental health. Especially when the child feels he did not get a fair penalty for the wrong he did. Fear of punishment hinders his mental development. [2]

The safest place for a child should be home, and the closest people to a child should be the parents. When a child doesn’t get the love and sympathy from home, he feels he has nowhere and no one to run to. He holds on to a lot of negative emotions because he doesn’t have a free platform to express himself. He may develop depression and/or anxiety.

Once you show a child that the only way to correct him is through punishment, he develops fear. He ends up not trying to do anything at all for fear that should he be wrong, then you’ll punish him. Living with doubts and fear affects him mentally and may hinder his creativity in school.

5. Punishment Deters a Parent from Using Other Correctional Means

What this means is, when a parent punishes a child, the immediate result is that a child stops misbehaving. When you get such desirable results from punishment, it gets to your head that it’s the most effective way of guiding a child.

Chances are you’ll be resorting to this form of guidance every time a child does something wrong. Now, this causes a parent not to think of other, better ways beyond punishment. 

What happens when the child stops responding to this punishment? It means it has become ineffective, and yet you don’t have any other way to discipline him. As for the child, since you taught him that the only way to guidance is punishment, any other form of guidance simply won’t work.

Therefore, punishment does not make the child internalize the mistake to feel remorseful and accountable. In most cases, it may even strengthen the very vice you’re struggling to eradicate. As a parent, you need to learn other ways of guiding your child with love, empathy, and understanding while molding a well-behaved child.

How Can a Parent Approach Positive Discipline?

Positive discipline aims to give long-term solutions. You set limits, rules, and expectations with firmness and sympathy. It guides a child towards self-respect, confidence, sympathy, and respect for others. This allows you to form a respectful connection with your child. Children feel confident to express themselves when they know you listen to and respect their opinion. [3]

Choosing the best way to discipline a child will need you to learn how to analyze your child and the environment in which you’re raising him. Get to know the person in him to get to the root of the problem. Sometimes the problem may be the parent or the family set-up. Get to understand that behind any misbehavior, there is something that the child is trying to communicate, however, misguided his expression.

Some kids misbehave because the parent tolerated it for too long. Hence, the child ends up believing he has done nothing wrong since mom/dad didn’t speak. An accepted behavior over time becomes a habit that is hard to drop. So, when you indulge in correcting him, be patient.

Some causes may just be because of a lack of attention and love. By understanding the cause for a child’s misbehaving, you’ll be able to choose the right approach to correct the child without causing physical or mental harm.

Positive discipline gives impressive long-term results. You can read more on positive discipline on


Effective Ways to Discipline a Child without Punishment

Positive discipline does not take away the power to be firm. Neither does it allow a child to get away with misconduct. It gives room for rules, expectations, and allows kindness at the same time. It affirms that you don’t lose your authority as a parent when you act kindly and with sympathy towards a misbehaving child. 

 Here are ways on how you can connect with your child, to help him recognize his mistake and want to change. 

1. Control Your Emotions before Taking any Action

It’s natural to want to yell and scold when a child misbehaves. But always remember that you can’t achieve the goal of discipline when angry, since anger clouds judgment. Always take time to cool off and face your child when you’re calm. 

 A child will listen to gentle words and even become remorseful and reflect on his mistakes. When you yell, the child shuts down the part of the brain that needs to listen. Instead, he becomes defensive and disconnected.

Remember that a child lives what he sees. He will emulate your gentle and kind approach, just as he would your temper. Therefore, having control of your emotions guides your child on how to control his. In the end, your calmness allows you and the child to talk and listen from a point of understanding. He’ll accept your guidance easily when you approach him with calmness.

2. Be Compassionate

Now that you’re both calm, explain to your child that he must behave himself, a failure to which he will be accountable for his actions. Allow him to face the consequences, but sympathize and be kind when setting the limits. Let him know you love him and still want him, even if he has displeased you. When you accommodate him, he also accommodates the guidance you give.

When a child is temperamental, it won’t help to reason with him. Let him know that it’s safe for him to express his emotions whichever way he does it. This gives you a chance to understand his actions. From here, you can both address the underlying issue and he will be in a better position to accept your guidance. 

When you approach a child with compassion, even after he feels he doesn’t deserve it because of his ill behavior, it gives him a chance to want to correct his behavior from a point of guilt. You’ll realize that after this, you need very little effort to reform him. The love will guide him. [4]

3. Give Your Child the Benefit of the Doubt

When you tell him, “I know you forgot to take out the trash, you didn’t mean to neglect your duty.” He feels you trust him and wouldn’t want to forget again. Your child is good and innocent, and these mistakes do not define him. Children grow and learn through mistakes and corrections. 

When a child knows you trust him, he’ll want to do what is right without a push. He must maintain the trust you give him, hence, without even an effort from you, the trust will mold him into an abiding child.

One sign of rebellion is defensiveness. For instance, when he fights with his friend and he’s the one who started it. You’ll be able to get to him and the reason for the fight if he knows you believe he’s good before anything else. Then he’ll explain, apologize, and promise not to repeat it. But if he can’t count on your trust, then he may be defensive and may come up with more lies to make you not punish him.

Let your child know everyone makes mistakes, but the best ones are those who acknowledge when they are wrong, own up and strive not to repeat. This way, the child learns something every time he’s corrected and guided.

4. Give Time to Change

Changing takes time. When you’re guiding a child towards exemplary behavior, be patient. Remember that some conducts you’re trying to change had probably become habitual to the child. A habit takes time to drop.

Just like teaching a child to walk, there’ll be a lot of hand-holding, cheering as the child seeks support from you. With time, he may fall with some attempts and pick up again. He then takes small steps without holding onto anything or anyone. Eventually, he walks comfortably and even runs on his own. As with positive discipline, at first, you’ll put in a lot of effort, but as the action becomes repetitive, the child picks and adopts it.

5. Set Time Aside to Connect with Your Child

If possible, do this every day. Give your child time and attention. Children are fond of attention, and a lack of it may trigger unattractive attention-seeking behavior. The best way to tackle this is by setting time aside just for your child.

You can decide to have at least a few minutes each evening before or after supper. Use this time to reconnect with your child after a tiring or stressful day. You’ll get to know how she spent her day, what went wrong or right during the day, and who or what contributed to her fatigue, happiness or sadness for that day. You can play, talk, laugh and cry to release all the emotions held inside.

Any activity you choose to engage with your child, will be a bonding and learning time for both of you. You can try a fun activity like an educational game.

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My Feelings Game
Fun educational family game to help kids express their emotions and self regulation.

When you give your child time, you become close; she learns to depend on you and feels free to open up to you. You get to know her so well, that you’ll be able to know the best way to handle her when a situation arises. If you give her the attention she needs, she’ll not have to resort to other poor means of seeking your attention.

6. Reward and Praise Good Behavior

Learn to praise and reward your child when he does well. Praise good as much as you condone bad.

When you praise a child, you help to develop his confidence and pride. He’ll want to keep getting the same praise. And how will he do this? By maintaining a streak of exemplary behavior. When he faces a situation where he has to choose between doing good or misbehaving, he’ll lean towards the better choice since praise weighs more in his heart than reprimanding or time-outs.

As a bonus, you can go as far as recording your child’s rewards. You can have a journal to record the day, the reward you gave and the reason for the reward. This will be like his exemplary behavior refence book. Such a journal is available on

7. Allow and Teach Kids to Mend

When you teach a child to clean up his messes, it gives him a chance to own up. This should start at an early age. Allow him to clean when he spills food or drink. As he grows, teach him to make up his room or to apologize when he wrongs his peers or adults. Teach him how to make up after a fight with a sibling or a friend. 

Correct him in private to avoid shaming him if in public. The time he takes to clean up after his mess will provide a time for him to reflect on his actions, for he gets no pleasure in cleaning up. Hence, he’ll rather be obedient than face consequences.

Final Thought

Discipline is achievable through love and compassion, not through punishment. When you understand any tantrums or misbehavior could be because of how a child feels inside, you’ll be able to get to the underlying issues and not only solve them, but guide him on how to express them next time he feels low.

Some may argue that you’ll lose your grip when you act kindly after a child misbehaves. The opposite is true. Kindness attracts kindness. Be the reflection of who you want your child to become. Then teach him how to use self-control to refrain when provoked. Show him that respect and trust are earned.

For further read,

[1] Gershoff, Elizabeth T. “Report on physical punishment in the United States: What research tells us about its effects on children.” (2008).

[2] Parke, Ross D. “Some Effects of Punishment on Children’s Behavior.” Young Children, vol. 24, no. 4, 1969, pp. 225–240. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42643255. Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.

[3] Durrant, Joan E. Positive discipline in everyday parenting. Ottawa, ON: Save the Children Sweden, 2013.

[4] Kirby, James N. “Nurturing family environments for children: compassion-focused parenting as a form of parenting intervention.” Education Sciences 10.1 (2020): 3.

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Author

Diana Lucas

Diana Lucas

Hi, Diana here. Welcome to my blog and hope you like my sharing. I am a mother of 2 boys, 3 years old and a 1 year old. I dedicate my career in child development research and I focus on parenting tips, positive parenting, educational toys for my babies. Your time here means a lot to me! Diana A. Lucas

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