Parenting is undeniable a difficult job. As a child psychologist, one of the main issues I work on with families involves conflict between parents and their children regarding punishments. Kids and teens believe their parents’ punishments are antiquated or too extreme, while parents claim their kids are disrespectful and don’t follow the rules- regardless of the punishments they impose.
The primary issue involved in this conflict is the distinction between discipline and punishment. Often times, people believe punishment and discipline are one in the same; however, there are important differences between the two terms. Discipline teaches a child about life and the consequences of a particular behavior, whereas punishment only communicates to a child he/she did something wrong. Punishments have no association with the undesirable behavior, so the child tends to interpret the punishment as a character flaw (e.g. “I must be a bad kid”). On the contrary, discipline provides consequences related to the particular wrongdoing. For example, let’s say it was your son’s turn to empty the dishwasher. He didn’t complete this task and instead took off to the skate park with his friends. Discipline would involve emptying the dishwasher every day for a week, as well as hand-washing any dishes that could not be put in the dishwasher. Punishment would involve being grounded and having to stay at home for a week.
Research on parenting demonstrates discipline is an effective method for teaching kids about responsibility and desired behavior. Punishments, on the other hand, teach very little and thus, do not help kids to avoid making the same mistake again. Being grounded has no connection to forgetting to empty the dishwasher, but emptying the dishwasher and washing dishes most certainly does. This connection is what’s most important for teaching responsibility and ensuring the undesirable behavior won’t be repeated.
Here are a few important tips to remember when using discipline:
Set expectations: When assigning chores and responsibilities, set clear expectations ahead of time. Let your child know what the chore entails and when it must be completed, as well as what discipline will be imposed if your child fails to complete the chore. It’s often helpful to write down responsibilities/discipline or use a chore chart so the whole family is on the same page.
Match the discipline to the behavior: Discipline used as a consequence for undesirable behavior MUST be related to the undesirable behavior in order for it to be effective and teach children. In addition, using overcorrection is very effective. Overcorrection involves having your child complete related discipline above and beyond the behavior he/she failed to complete (i.e. In the example given above, overcorrection involves not only having the child empty the dishwasher every day for a week, but also washing the other dishes).
Time it right: Do not make the discipline too long or too harsh; it should be age appropriate. Kids learn the same lesson whether they are made to empty the dishwasher for a week or a month. Discipline which is too long or too severe can be hard to impose and will lose effectiveness.
Discipline can be super effective when used correctly with kids and teens of almost any age. Try it out and contact Dr. Luisa at Harmony At Home for additional support.