Why Choose Discipline

Originally posted as: Why Choose Discipline [September 2016]

Today I'm going to talk about the difference between discipline and punishment.

Lots of people use these two words interchangeably when in fact they are quite different. I'm not concerned about the misuse of the words as much as I want people (parents especially) to clearly understand the difference so they can make an educated choice about how they want to proceed in life.


This is an important topic to be aware of because discipline is actually tightly tied to self-discipline – this is what helps you live a healthy life, treat others in ways you would like to be treated, to respect others property, to build strong relationships and so much more.

Most of us have been raised using a punitive style…so that is what we have internalized. This means, that if we stay on autopilot – we will quite naturally use this style, even when we don't want to. Not just with our kids, but with our friends, colleagues, life partners and so on.

Intuitively we know that threats, beatings, incarceration, etc, do not bring out the best in people, but we aren't always aware of how to do it differently. This robs you of your vibrancy and power, because it can make you behave in inconsistent and contradictory ways. This can put you on the defensive (making you dig deep to justify actions that you don't even really believe in) or shrink inwards and allow feelings like guilt or embarrassment to run the show (and we know we're not at our best when those feelings take over).

This topic is relevant to everyone…not just parents, but since my podcast is called VPMs, I'm going to look at it mostly from the angle.  If you are not currently parenting, then think about how this information applies to your life – how were you raised, can you identify any limiting beliefs you carry as a result, how do you interact now with others, what tools do you use and  and so on. In other words, whether you're parenting or not, use this information as a way to increase your own awareness in all areas of life.

Exactly What Are We Talking About?

First off, we are NOT talking about a list of tools – and this is definitely not about me telling you which tools you should be using. If you spank your child, criticize your spouse or threaten your friends, that is your choice (even in places where laws prohibit such behaviour). It's not up to me to tell you what's good or bad. Hopefully by now, if you've listened to some of my other podcasts you know that's not how I roll.

My goal, is to help you understand what you are already doing, why it might not be working and what you can do differently if you so desire.

Discipline and Punishment are less about the tools you use and more about your mindset, intention & style of delivery!

In order to choose discipline as a parenting style, it's important you understand how it is different from the punitive style that's so prevalent in the world. Although parents often ask for it, there is not a list of tools one could define as discipline or punishment tools.

The gentlest guiding tool can be manipulated and used to punish someone. On the other hand I've heard some very convincing stories of punitive tools being used in ways that increased respect and provided good guidance.

Discipline gone rogue…

When I was working in the school system we had a trainer come in and teach the whole school how to use a program by Diane Gossen called Restitution (not the kind of restitution they talk about in the justice system). This program is about helping a person recognize they have made a mistake, take a moment to calm any escalated emotion and then decide if they would like to try and fix what they have done. If they choose not to, consequences are put in place, but if they choose to try restitution there are no other consequences.

It's a beautiful discipline tool that allows a student to truly learn from the situation and make amends for it. The trick is they have to choose to do this – you cannot force a person to make amends, just like you can't force a person to feel sorry for what they have done.

One day, shortly after our training, I was walking down the hallway of the school when I heard a teacher bellow, "You are going to do Restitution…and you are going to do it right now!"

That is a perfect example of someone trying to teach discipline using a punitive style. Now in case you're thinking the teacher should be fired…the teacher was a wonderful person, who was very upset by the behaviour she had just witnessed from this student and who had internalized punishment as a model of correction.

Most of us fluctuate between using discipline and punishment just like we switch back and forth between having good and bad moments throughout the day.

Discipline in an ideal world…

Discipline is about learning and as such is a tool used by adults to guide children towards appropriate behaviour.  It teaches the child why a behaviour is unacceptable and provides him with an opportunity to fix mistakes. It focuses on the behaviour as the problem (not the child), which helps the child see how changing his behaviour can help him make better decisions in the future.

Discipline teaches important life skills (i.e. problem solving, being assertive, negotiation, effective communication, etc) and provides the child with an opportunity to test out different solutions. It is delivered by a calm, controlled adult with the child's best interest at heart.

The child does not feel picked-on, defective or embarrassed to have made a mistake and when all is said and done, feels stronger than when the situation began. This good feeling helps him internalize what he has learned and begins the creation of a moral code that he'll be able to draw on throughout his life. This results in less repeat problem behaviours – even when the adult is not around to enforce things. It also creates a strengthening of the adult-child bond which is beneficial to relationship and self-worth.

If you want to look at this on an even deeper level (or if you aren't actively parenting right now), think about this in terms of how you interact with other people. Do you give tips, tools and encouragement to see positive change in behaviour…or do you criticize, bully or shame others to get compliance?

Punishment in its extreme…

Punishment is about teaching a lesson and is geared at making a child so uncomfortable she would never consider offending in this way again. Over-reaction by the punisher is common as emotion is often fed by the powerful feeling that accompanies this behaviour.  As a result the adult frequently ends up modeling a behaviour that contradicts what he or she really wants the child to learn.

For punishment to work, the child must believe the adult has the authority to tell her what to do and the power to follow through on consequences if she does not listen (if you listened to my podcast on parent power, then you'll understand this a little better). In this way, most punishment relies on the child fearing a possible outcome (which, incidentally, is exactly what bullying relies on as well). The child learns that the person with the most power wins, which shifts the focus from learning why a behaviour was wrong, to craving power.

In punishment, the child is often seen as the problem which diminishes self-esteem and makes it a much harder to fix. For example, if a child is told she's lazy and irresponsible and will never amount to anything because she's left her dishes on the coffee table for the umpteenth time, this can feel like a big personal challenge to overcome; she actually has to change who she is rather than just take better care to put her dishes in the dishwasher after eating.

Although the child may be given the chance to fix what was done, she's usually not given a choice about how this should happen or taught how to come up with good solutions for future reference.

The emotional delivery of punishment often causes a shift from learning to resentment or revenge aimed at the punisher or the person who turned the offender in. It does not promote responsibility taking, but instead teaches the child how to blame others or how not to get caught. The relationship with the adult suffers with repeat offenses as the severity of punishment tends to escalate over time.

If you think for just a moment about our judicial system – you can clearly see how this works. A offense can go from a slap on the wrist (verbal warning); to a fine or visit before the justice committee; to a stay in juvenile detention; to prison… and once you're out on parole there is zero tolerance for even jaywalking.

Tune into the podcast for guidance on using discipline effectively; why discipline is actually much harder to use than punishment and why you want to use this mindset for raising your kids.

If you're struggling with your child (or partner) when it comes to using discipline, set up a complimentary discovery call and I'll help you sort through it.

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