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Punishment Vs Discipline


  • Prov 10:13: In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding.
  • Prov 23:13-14 :Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. KJV
  • Prov 26:3: A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. KJV


When it comes to correcting your child’s misbehaviour, there’s a big difference between punishment and discipline. While punishment focuses on making a child suffer for breaking the rules, discipline is about teaching him how to make a better choice next time.

What Is Punishment?

Punishment instills a penalty for a child’s offense. It’s about making a child “pay” for his mistakes. Sometimes, the desire to inflict punishment stems from a parent’s feelings of frustration.

At other times, it stems from desperation. A parent may feel compelled to yell, spank, or remove every privilege a child has ever had in an effort to send a clear message that his behavior better change “or else.”

Punishment is about controlling a child, rather than teaching the child how to control himself. And most often, punishment changes the way a child thinks about himself.

A child who endures serious punishment may begin to think, “I’m bad.” Instead of thinking he made a bad choice, he may believe he’s a bad person.

Authoritarian parents are most likely to punish children. Punishment, like spanking, is meant to inflict physical pain and suffering. Other examples of punishment may include forcing a teenager to hold a sign that says, “I steal from stores,” or calling a child names.

The idea of punishment implies repaying someone with what he or she deserves. That’s the antithesis of the gospel. Punishment produces a child laden with guilt and determined to get out from under it, and Christlikeness is never the result. As parents, we have to learn the difference between punishment and discipline.

Problems With Punishments

Punishments don’t teach children how to behave.2 A child who receives a spanking for hitting his brother doesn’t learn how to resolve conflict peacefully. Instead, he’ll be left feeling confused about why it’s OK for you to hit him but it’s not OK for him to hit his brother.

Punishment also teaches children that they are not able to be in control of themselves. They learn their parents must manage their behavior because they are not able to do it on their own.

Harsh punishment can cause children to dwell on their anger toward the person inflicting the pain, rather than the reason they got in trouble.

So rather than sit and reflect on how he can do better next time, a child who is forced to sit in the corner for hours may spend his time thinking about how to get revenge on the caregiver who put him there.

What Is Discipline?

Discipline teaches children new skills, such as how to manage their behavior, solve problems, and deal with uncomfortable emotions. Discipline helps children learn from their mistakes and teaches them socially appropriate ways to deal with emotions, like anger and disappointment.

Discipline techniques include strategies such as time-out or the removal of privileges.

The goal is to give children a clear negative consequence that will help him make a better decision in the future. 

Discipline takes an authoritative approach. Healthy discipline involves giving children clear rules and consistent negative consequences when they break the rule.

Consequences are also time-sensitive. So while punishment may involve a parent removing all electronics indefinitely, discipline might involve taking away the TV for 24 hours when a child refuses to turn it off. 

The Benefits of Discipline

Discipline is proactive, rather than reactive. It prevents many behaviour problems and it ensures children are actively learning from their mistakes.

Many discipline techniques involve positive approaches, such as praise and reward systems. Positive reinforcement encourages good behaviour to continue and provides children with clear incentives to follow the rules.

Discipline also fosters positive relationships between parents and children. And quite often, that positive relationship reduces attention-seeking behaviour and motivates children to behave. 

While discipline allows for appropriate amounts of guilt, it isn’t about shaming children. And that is crucial. A child who feels good about himself is less likely to make poor choices. Instead, he’ll have confidence in his ability to manage his behaviour.

The Gospel of Grace

What does the gospel of Grace got to do with parenting? If Jesus took all the punishment for you and me, He also took all of it for our children. I don’t want to teach my children that I need to pay them back for the bad things they’ve done. I want them to understand that the only way to make right what they did is to trust that when Jesus died on the cross, He paid for their sins. 

It makes no sense for me to fellowship with God on the basis of mercy and with my children on the basis of judgment. Since Jesus took the punishment, my role as a parent is not just to inflict pain on them as I punish them. My role is to provide appropriate consequences and instruction to help them see how their behaviour displeases God and to teach them how to cooperate with God’s work in their lives. The Bible calls this discipline.

Punishment and Discipline

Punishment produces some very negative characteristics in your children: guilt, shame, bitterness, resentment, regret, self-pity, fear, and more. Because it’s focused on the past, children feel helpless. They can’t undo what they’ve already done, and they can’t change the circumstances that their behaviour has produced. Punishment doesn’t give them a means to right their wrongs; the tools they need to understand redemption aren’t included in the punishment pack­age. It is simply retribution that leads to a lot of negative emotions.

Discipline, on the other hand, is future-focused, always pointing toward future acts. It has nothing to do with retribution and everything to do with redemption. Whereas the purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offense, the purpose of discipline is to train for correction and maturity. Whereas the origin of punishment is the frustration of the parent, the origin of discipline is a high moti­vation for the welfare of the child. And whereas the result of punishment is fear and shame, the result of discipline is security. Discipline always holds the child’s best interests, not the parent’s anger, in the forefront. It is never out of control.

Steps for Effective Discipline

1. Clear warning.

Your first interaction with your child about a situation should be verbal. A child should never be blindsided by the discipline you hand down to her. It should always be preceded by a clear warning, both for her sake and for yours.

2. Establish responsibility.

It’s important for your child to own up to his misbehaviour. Many parents make the mistake of asking, “Why did you do that?” That’s not a good question; “why” doesn’t help him admit his responsibility in the situation. Besides being a theological no-brainer — your child is a sinner with a predisposition to disobedience, which he inherited from you and every other generation all the way back to the first parents in the Garden — that question gives him room to inject shades of gray into his under­standing and explanations. He’ll begin to rationalize, and you’ll lose sight of the real issue. Here’s a better way to go about it:

“Esther, what did you do wrong?”

“Nothing. Everyone was going over to that house, and I just went in for a minute.”

“Try again. What did you do wrong?”

“I only went in to …”

“I’m going to give you one more chance. What did we talk about?”

“I’m not supposed to go over there for any reason.”

“So what did you do wrong?”

“I disobeyed you.”

Do you see how, with that kind of conversation, you’re calm, controlled, and not trying to punish? You’re trying to help him learn. Remember that your child can’t learn without being able to own up to his responsibility. No one can. When you put your child in a position of having to do that, you’re preparing him for responsible adulthood.

Remember to always keep your focus on the child’s behaviour, not his identity. If Johnny says, “I’m a bad person” or “You don’t like me anymore,” affirm how much he is loved and how special he is, but turn his attention immediately back to his actions. You want him to understand that the act was wrong and that he is fully capable of doing the right thing.

3. Avoid embarrassment.

Never embarrass your children in front of their friends, siblings, or even strangers. You don’t have to yell where everyone around can hear you, or do anything else that will make your children feel as if all eyes are on them. All that accomplishes is shame. Instead, go to a private place. At home, that can be the bedroom. In public, it can be a trip to the restroom for a young child or a firm statement that “we need to talk later” to an older child. However you do it, don’t damage your children’s esteem among their peers or even among strangers. Embarrassment can do a lot of damage that you’ll have a hard time undoing later on.

4. Communicate grief.

Let your children know that more than being angry, you are disappointed and heartbroken when they disobey. Early on in their lives, let them know you trust them. And when that trust has been violated, they need to know that the relationship is wounded. When children see the grief of their parents, they’ll better understand how their sin affects God. They’ll understand that God isn’t shaking His fist at us every time we make a mistake, but He grieves just as a loving parent does when witnessing the destructive nature of disobedience.

Sincere repentance.

Here’s the story of a father; When my children were small, I’d let them sit in my lap after a spanking and cry for a while. That was a great time to model for them the love behind the discipline. Then after a few minutes, I’d ask, “Are you ready to talk about this with Daddy and with God?” When I received a nod and could tell repentance and genuine sorrow had occurred, I revisited the issue and asked them, “What did you do wrong?” I wanted to help them clearly relate the discipline to the behaviour, not to them as a person.

Then I would ask, “With whom do you need to make things right?” Often they would realize they needed to make things right not just with me and with God, but also to apologize to a brother or sister. Then I’d take the opportunity to coach them in how to approach God, what to say, how to confess their sin, and how to receive forgiveness. When they said something like, “I’m sorry, God, for ________. Please forgive me,” I would tell them how special they were, both to me and to God, and that they’d been disciplined to correct mis­behaviour, not because they were a bad person.

Those dialogues trained them for a life of relating to God humbly and honestly as no other experience could. And in later years my children told me that some of the times they’d felt closest to me were during those periods of forgiveness and reconciliation.

7. Unconditional love.

After disciplining your child, be encour­aged to take him in your arms and pray, “Thank you, Lord, for my precious boy/girl, for the wonderful way You’ve made him/her, for the amazing guy/babe he/she is, and for all the gifts You’ve given him/her. Please help him/her remember what’s right and give him/her the strength to do it. Thank You that he/she has taken responsibility for what he/she did. We know You’ve taken a big eraser and wiped it off the board. You’ve forgiven him/her and made him/her absolutely clean, and I forgive him/her too.” Then give him/her a big hug and go do something fun. He’ll know he’s still accepted and that there’s absolutely no barrier between the two of you.

If you’re consistent with the actions of discipline for a few weeks, you’ll find that your children have clear boundaries, and they’re likely to have a clearer conscience and changed behaviour. You’ll probably sense much less destructive stress in your home environ­ment as well. Your children will feel a lot more loved, and they’ll have the privilege and blessing of being in a home that’s at peace.

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