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Learn to Use Discipline Instead of Punishment

Parenting your child isn't always easy. Most of us never learned how to teach our children new tasks. Many of us simply use the method that our parents used on us. Often that is not the best method.

When it comes to discipline and punishment, many parents simply don't understand the difference. Parenting is a skill that all parents should try to master. Here is the difference between punishment and discipline:

With punishment, the parent demands cooperation. The child is expected to follow the rules without needing to understand why. If he breaks the rules, he is punished either physically or mentally. This does not teach the child the right way to behave, it simply teaches him how not to get caught. Let's look at the differences.


Punishment has an adverse effect on how children feel about themselves (they are bad, they are stupid, they can't do anything right).

Punishment can raise rebels. If your child behaves only because he is afraid of retribution, what happens when he is older and bigger. What happens if you have not taught him compassion, self respect or emotional control? Wouldn't life be better if our children did the right thing because they wanted to - not because they were forced to?

Young children truly want to be good. If we discipline them instead of punishing them, they learn how to control their emotions, self respect and compassion.


Discipline involves teaching and guidance. We need to show our children what we expect and make sure they understand what is expected before they can do it right.

When we use discipline, we make sure our child knows what is expected. We make sure our child knows how to accomplish what is expected. We make sure our child knows he does not have to be afraid to ask for help. We encourage our child when he tries. We expect a job well done and follow through if needed.

Punishment Example:

Mom expects eight year old Jenny to clear the table and wash the dishes after dinner. She shows Jenny how to do it on Thursday and tells her that it will be her responsibility from now on.

On Friday, Jenny clears the table after dinner. She runs hot water in the sink - but can't remember how much soap to use. She is afraid to ask mom how much dish soap to use because mom might get mad at her for not remembering. So she squirts way too much soap in.

The sink ends up with two inches of water and soap bubbles to the top of the sink. She can't get all the dishes clean because she is trying to wash the dishes without enough water. She is still afraid to go ask mom for help. She doesn't want to get yelled at. She already hates this chore.

Mom comes into the kitchen and sees what has happened.

"What are you doing?" she yells. "Can't you see that you have too much soap? And look how you stacked those dishes. You're lucky they didn't fall off the counter and break. What's that on the floor? You made a mess. Get out of the way. I have to fix the dishwater or those plates will never get clean. Take this rag and wash the table. Maybe you can get that right."

Jenny slinks to the table and washes it off while mom drains the sink and adds water and a little dish soap.

Note: once again, she fails to make sure Jenny knows how much soap to use! Children do not learn by osmosis. They need to be taught to do every job that is expected of them. It would take far less time for mom to teach Jenny all the steps involved - and be prepared to answer questions if Jenny forgets a step. At this rate, Jenny won't learn this simple task for several days. - And it will be a miserable several days for Jenny.

After Jenny has the dishes washed and setting in the drying rack, mom comes out to inspect.

"You left food on this plate. Can't you get anything right? Take this plate back and wash it again. I told you to make sure every dish was clean. Don't you listen?"

Not only does Jenny hate this chore, she will hate it for the rest of her life. She will try to find ways to get out of doing it. And, probably, she will not remember why she hates it so much.

Mom has contributed to Jenny's low self esteem. Jenny believes that she is stupid, messy, and doesn't listen well. She hates the chore and she is learning to hate herself.

Do you see the punishment? It wasn't physical. It was mental - and will hurt Jenny for the rest of her life.

Same example using discipline:

Mom expects eight year old Jenny to clear the table and wash the dishes after dinner. She shows Jenny how to do it on Thursday and tells her that it will be her responsibility from now on. She tells Jenny to be sure to ask if she has any questions.

On Friday, Jenny clears the table after dinner. She runs hot water in the sink - but can't remember how much soap to use. She finds mom and admits that she forgot how much soap to use.

Mom comes to the kitchen and starts the dishwater. She takes the bottle and squeezes three drops under the running water.

"It usually takes three or four drops." she says. "You'll get the hang of it after a few days." (Encouragement) She then leaves Jenny with a reminder that she will be nearby if Jenny has more questions.

Jenny washes the dishes without any more problems. She feels proud of herself for accomplishing a new task.

Mom comes out to check the job. "You did a great job, Jenny. I see that you remembered to rinse the soap out of the sink when you finished. That's great!" (Praise the attempt)

Then mom continues "Oh, look at this plate. It still has food on it. You'll have to rewash that one. It'll just take a minute and then the job will be perfect." (Point out the error without putting down the effort.)

Jenny feels proud of herself because she accomplished the task without too many mistakes. She learned what she did wrong and will get it right tomorrow.

She can't wait until tomorrow when she knows she will be able to do the task without help.

Mom has raised Jenny's self esteem by teaching her how to do the task and praising her attempt. She's helped Jenny through the tougher parts of the task without making Jenny feel stupid. The two mistakes that Jenny had will not be remembered because mom simply told her how to correct them while still ensuring that Jenny didn't feel bad about herself.

Discipline gives us children who are happy to do chores

Jenny is on her way to growing up with good self esteem and good work habits. Jenny will never hate doing dishes. She may wish she didn't have to, but the task will not bother her.

Look at some of the ways you expect your children to complete tasks. Try to find ways to help them learn to do the task right without putting the child down.




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