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Discipline and Parenting Techniques for Young Children

Updated on December 18, 2019

"The discipline of children is first self-discipline." St. John Bosco

What Is Discipline?

Child discipline is a hot topic. Parents want to know, what is the best form of discipline for my young children. What is the difference between discipline and punishment? Is there a difference between discipline and punishment? Yes, a resounding yes is the answer. I will share from both an adult and a child’s perspective on why proper discipline is the preferred method to incorporate into your child-rearing practices.

There are three basic forms of discipline and it has been researched and documented that one form does seem to produce a more well-balanced youth who matures into a well-adjusted adult. They are authoritative, authoritarian and permissive. Which one sounds most effective? There are distinct differences. Many parents find that they use a combination of these styles although ideally parents should remain as consistent as possible to achieve the best results.

The word discipline comes from Anglo-French and Latin, disciplina, teaching; learning from, discipulus, pupil. Discipline means, teaching, giving instruction to a pupil; training that corrects, molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.

The word punishment is derived from Old French, puniss, which is from punir, to punish. From Latin, punier; to inflict a penalty on, cause pain for some offence. Punishment is a form of suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution. It can be severe, rough or disastrous treatment. There is no instruction involved.

By looking at these definitions, one can conclude that discipline involves instruction which requires time and explanation. Punishment, in contrast, is used for inflicting suffering for an offense, which would imply that the offender knew the offense beforehand, which isn’t always the case if parents have not clearly defined the boundaries. Let’s look at the three basic forms of discipline.

Which Parenting Style Is Best?

From the mouth of babes...

"Mommy doesn't like me. She yelled at me and hit me and said I was stupid. I didn't mean to knock the flower pot over. I was dancing to music and bumped into it. I said I was sorry, but she didn't care. I guess she likes her dumb plant more than me."

"Daddy is yelling at me because I grabbed a toy away from my sister. I tried to be nice and ask her, but she wouldn't give it to me, and I really wanted it, so I grabbed it from her. She started crying and ran to tell Mommy and she told Daddy. Now I'm crying because Daddy hit me and told me I'm a little brat and sent me to my room. I wish he would stop hitting me. I don't know why I hit my sister. I love her. I guess I'm just stupid."

"Mommy said I'm in big trouble and that Daddy is going to spank me hard when he gets home."

Three Styles Of Discipline

Authoritarian is cold, rigid, ‘do as I say or else’, form of discipline with high demands and tends to be very controlling. Often there is physical and emotional abuse involved. Children raised with this form of parenting often end up in trouble and rebel. Many end up growing into an emotional, abusive, judgmental adult inflicting the same demands on the people involved in their lives; partners, friends, co-workers, family members including their own children. We have all met these kind of adults.

  • Sets high demands with guilt and punishment being the prime motivator if not carried out properly
  • Very controlling with no questions allowed or explanations given for purpose of a rule/boundary
  • Is less responsive to child’s true needs
  • Issues commands and criticisms frequently
  • Interferes often to ‘monitor’ behavior
  • Issues threats without carrying through
  • Uses loud and harsh tone of voice as form of authority

Benefits of Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative is an involved but not overly controlling form of discipline. There is a combination of firm fairness and less restrictions on the environment, giving the child a chance to self-regulate their own behavior. There is room for support and guidance with clearly defined boundaries which are explained to the child. It has been documented that often these children grow into well-adjusted adults who understand a sense of fairness and possess positive leadership skills, enabling others to grow and perform well whether in a family or work environment. This is the ideal from of discipline and it requires patience and consistency and love.

  • Sets rules and explains why they exist ( a reason other than ’because I said so’)
  • Couples discipline with support and affection
  • Shows consistency, rationale and consideration
  • Does not flip-flop when rules are broken, simply reinforces
  • Loving but not overly indulgent
  • Has logical consequences to misbehavior
  • Knows how to say no firmly with an even tone of voice

The Traps of Permissive Parenting

Permissive Parenting

Permissive, or indulgent, is hardly a form of discipline and is often misinterpreted as being a ‘friend’ to your child, wanting to reinforce good behavior by being nice, buying your children expensive gifts or too many gifts and going wherever they want to go. Often working parents fall into this category because they may feel guilt for being away from their child. Unfortunately what happens is the child ends up running the family with demands, temper tantrums or rebellion if he doesn’t get his way and wanting more and more from parents and society as they grow older. There are no boundaries given, no consistency in enforcing proper behavior thus the child learns manipulation at an early age.

  • Being a friend to the child doing things to make child happy to avoid misbehavior
  • Warm and loving rarely setting clear rules and boundaries
  • Inconsistent and lax when rules are clearly broken, often with no consequences
  • Buys the child something whenever they go out and child expects this and will throw temper tantrum if parent does not give in
  • Does not use a firm but fair tone of voice and child perceives parent does not really mean what they say (which they don’t)
  • Tries to be kind and avoids conflict or difficult situations
  • Responsive, but more lax and undemanding

From the mouth of babes...

"I'm so excited. Mommy said we could go to the park after lunch if I clean up my bedroom. Yay, I love going to the park! "

"I really wanted to buy a new doll and asked Dad if I could get one, but he said that I have quite a few dolls now and that maybe I could get one for Christmas. He said some kids don't get toys for Christmas, and I felt sorry for them, so we're going to give some of my dolls to those kids!"

"Wow, look at my chore chart! I got smiley faces on all those days! Mom said if I have smiley faces in all these 7 boxes that I can pick out a new toy and go to the ice cream shop! I'm so happy that I got all those smiley faces!"

"I had to go to time out today, Dad, but it's o.k. now because I knew I did the wrong thing. I won't ever do that again. Mom said I'm learning, and she smiled, so I knew she wasn't mad."

Practical Discipline Techniques

Here are six excellent techniques that respect both the adult and the child. If used consistently with instruction and communication, discipline can be much easier and seen more as part of the parenting process rather than a dreaded chore. Children want boundaries and they will test you to see if you mean what you say. So, mean what you say and say it well. Let’s take a look.

  1. Role modeling- children learn more about behavior by observation than any other way. They are always watching and listening even if it doesn’t appear that way.
  2. Attention-Ignore- catch your child being good and make a simple comment such as, I like the way you put your toys back on the shelf. Comment on the behavior, not praising the child. Children repeat behaviors that get attention.
  3. Charts and rewards- If not overused, charts on the refrigerator or on a door can help establish good behavior patterns and routines. Children enjoy colorful charts.
  4. Setting limits- children need to know their boundaries in clear, concise language and it helps them feel secure. These may change as the child grows and matures.
  5. Consequences- There are natural and logical consequences. If a child touches a hot stove, a natural consequence is the pain. A logical consequence could be taking a toy away if the child hits his sister with the toy.
  6. Time out- This is reserved for clearly defined rules. When that rule is broken, the child has a time out in a non-stimulating area. Bedrooms are not a good time-out area. Make sure the child can tell you why time out is necessary, or refresh his memory, clearly stating the rule that was broken. Set a timer (generally one minute for age of child), remain calm and when the timer goes off, the infraction is no longer mentioned. The purpose of time out is for the child to reflect on the proper behavior.

Parenting can be so rewarding when coupled with proper discipline techniques. Parenting does not come with instructions and it is helpful to learn as much as possible about something that not only affects you and your children, but parenting affects our entire society at large. It’s not always easy, but certainly rewarding. Our children are only young once, let's give them the best we can.


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