Discipline vs Punishment
There’s a significant difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment gives a negative consequence, but discipline means “to teach.” Punishment is negative; discipline is positive. Punishment focuses on past misdeeds. Discipline focuses on future good deeds. Punishment is often motivated by anger. Discipline is motivated by love. Punishment focuses on justice to balance the scales. Discipline focuses on teaching, to prepare for next time.
Jesus Didn’t Have Kids
Jesus didn’t have any children but he did have disciples. The words “disciple” and “discipline” come from the same root. The goal of parenting is to disciple kids in what it means to live life. This training comes in several ways: modeling, instructing, talking, practicing, and even correcting. The problem is that many parents lose their positive sense of parenting when it comes to correcting their kids, not realizing that correction is a gift.
The reality is that correction is one of the ways that kids learn. So parents need to have an attitude toward correction that keeps discipling in mind. The child who teases relentlessly, or whines for a snack, or bickers with his brother all have one thing in common: a need to change patterns of behavior and a need to change the heart. Some parents only use condemnation or anger to motivate their children. This attitude says, “If I just point out the problem enough times, he’ll eventually change.” Or, “If I give him enough consequences, then the punishment will make him want to change.”
Unfortunately, the negative approach that punishment often takes is counterproductive, weighs heavily on the relationship, and often hinders forward progress. What kids really need is firm correction with a positive focus. That means focusing on what your children should do to replace the negative behavior. It takes more work to discipline instead of punish but the rewards are worth it. Children grow when you balance firmness with relationship and teach new patterns for healthy relationships.
You may be saying, “Yes, I know discipline is supposed to be positive but how can I be positive when my kids are doing the wrong thing?” One way is to state rules and requests in positive terms. Instead of saying, “Don’t shout,” you might say, “We talk quietly in the store.” Instead of “Stop being rough with the dog,” you might say, “Be gentle.” Instead of complaining about the clothes all over your four-year-old daughter’s room, you could say, “You need to put your clothes in the hamper when you take them off.”
It’s About the Words You Use
Eleven times in the book of Proverbs God tells children to listen to parents. For example, in Proverbs 1:8 he says, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” If kids are supposed to listen to their parents it must mean that parents have something to say. Your words are important. A parent’s words contribute to the internal dialogue in your child’s mind and heart. Don’t abuse the listening ears of your kids by yelling words of condemnation and revenge. Anger at kids may seem justified but is rarely wise. Use your words strategically as tools for heart change and character development.
Carly has four kids under the age of seven. She carried around a clicker on her arm for a day. She clicked down once for every negative statement and up once for every positive statement she made to her kids. Carly was surprised at how many times she made negative comments. So, she went to work to change her approach. She looked for ways to affirm, but she also looked for ways to say negative things more positively. Instead of, “No, we’re not having snack right now,” she said, “Yes, you can have that as a snack at 3 o’clock.” An interesting thing happened that Carly didn’t expect. The attitude around her house began to take on a different atmosphere. Her kids seemed to accept her comments better and relationships seemed to improve.
It may take some work, but clearly stating or restating a directive in positive terms gives your child a clear picture of what you expect and keeps your interaction on a positive note. Give gentle, positive reminders to point your kids in the right direction.
And It’s About the Way You Correct
Of course, many children need more than just a positive way of talking about their weaknesses. They require correction, but the way you correct can mean the difference between resistance and responsiveness from your children.
Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The first part of the verse describes a negative way of relating to children. Exasperate gives the impression of being harsh and causing discouragement. In place of that negative response, fathers are instructed to do something positive, bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. You don’t want to discipline your kids to simply get rid of negative behaviors. The purpose of discipline is to train children and show them a better way to live.
Many of the problems children have are either behavioral habits or character deficiencies. It would be nice if they could have a “burning bush” experience that would change their lives instantly, but it usually doesn’t happen that way. Even Moses had to spend forty years in the desert as a shepherd leading sheep before he was ready to lead God’s people.
Training Is More Than Giving Consequences
Change takes time and many small corrections and reminders can contribute to long-term growth in your child. The word “discipline” used in the Old Testament is translated from the Hebrew word “chanak.” It means “to train.” Training implies guidance toward a particular goal. Every day you’re training your children to become healthy, responsible adults.
It’s easy to get upset when your children need a lot of correction or when they can’t seem to change right away. Some problems take longer to overcome than others. Your response is important. Exasperation can damage the relationship.
When parents understand and embrace the difference between punishment and discipline, it changes the way they relate to their kids. Instead of giving a consequence to balance the scales of justice, they use consequences to teach and to train. Instead of viewing discipline times as annoying detours on the path of life, they see them as opportunities to further develop character in their kids. A small change in perspective can make all the difference.
Children need firmness, direction, limit-setting, instruction, and correction. But don’t forget, they also need a lot of love.
Listen to Dr Turansky’s podcast on Using Jesus’s Teaching Techniques with Your Kids.