Punish or Discipline?

Girl toddler with brown hair and eyes holding stuffed bearDo we punish our children, or do we discipline them? Or, do we do both? I hear the words used in interchangeably. “Punish” comes from the root word punier meaning to inflict penalty or pain for an offense. Both “discipline” and “disciple” come from the root word discere which means to learn. Christ’s disciples learned from him and followed his teachings. We want our children to learn from us and follow our teachings. For that reason, discipline is a better choice than punishment. Let’s see how they differ.

Discipline Includes Instruction and Consequences

You walk around the corner in time to see four-year-old Ethan taking a stuffed bear from his little sister. She begins to wail. To punish him, you could put him in timeout or spank him. To discipline him, you talk to him about what he did, why it was wrong, and how his sister felt when her toy was taken from her. After talking with Ethan, you explain that he will have to give up playing with the stuffed animal for the rest of the day (consequences for his misbehavior). Discipline always includes teaching and consequences.

Help Your Child Become “Other-Centered”

Children are naturally self-centered creatures. It’s our responsibility as parents to help them become less self-centered and more other-centered as they mature. It will not happen without teaching, because punishment alone cannot accomplish this goal.

Teach Diligently

Remember the instructions that God gave the Israelites:  “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…”Deuteronomy 6: 6-7.  God recognized that diligent effort must be made by parents to instruct children in what is right.

A Heart Change Is Our Goal

The payoff? If Ethan is punished for taking the toy, he will remember that it’s not a good thing to do. If, however, he is disciplined (instructed with the addition of consequence for disobedience), he will have knowledge that can be applied to different circumstances. He will be moving from self-centeredness to love and concern for others. Isn’t that kind of heart change what we want for our children?

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