Should Children Be Punished or Not

Sarah Smenyak in her article, The Difference between Discipline and Child Abuse, describes discipline as an element of parenting that is very fundamental to the dynamics of the relationship between a parent and the child. Its goal is to correct a child’s choices and actions. On the other hand, Punishment is that act of using a negative stimulus to eradicate a negative behaviour (Sarah Smenyak, no.p).  Punishment can be classified into, corporal punishment, verbal reprimand and disapprovals. Verbal Reprimands are the disapproving verbal statements that parents use to alter a child’s bad behaviours. On the other hand, corporal punishment is the process of instilling physical pain to adolescent or a child, in responding to her undesired behaviours.  Example of corporal punishment may include, spanking a child or slapping his hand for trying to touch something hot. Some people punish their children purposefully; one of the most common purposes is to avoid the child redoing a mistake. Subsequently, some people do not punish their children because they do not want to scare them. Hence, the children may not listen to them. Therefore, should children be punished or not?

A caretaker or parent with intent of providing a teaching lesson to the child regarding his inappropriate action describes discipline as consequence to that undesired action. For instance if a four-year-old child continues to throw food on the floor against a parent’s warning, taking the food away from the child transforms into a disciplinary action. The taking of the food away from him is to make him learn that his behaviour from throwing food is unacceptable behaviour and it has a consequence too.  Discipline and Punishment are not the same. From the above example, a situation for punishment would be if the adult, caretaker or parent yelled and spanked the child for throwing food. In such a situation, the parent or adult is out of control of his anger and emotions.  Hence, the only thing his action does is teaching the child should always expect pain whenever he throws food on the floor.

A great percentage of people in the society are misinformed when it comes to child development. Most adults define the rational approach of disciplining children as ‘spoiling.’ The culture has become so critical because parents have allowed inappropriate and unrealistic expectations from their children to influence their choice of disciplining their children thus, resorting to punishing them. It, therefore, undermines the principles of proper discipline. Apparently, cultural context of child abuse is a severe physical harm subjected to a child. Due to such culture, the society has now found it difficult to establish a limit between discipline and punishment. It has also been assumed that any punishment that is subjected to a child does not necessarily transform to child abuse. However, the punishment is scaled based on the age of the child and its severity. Parents do not understand that, punishment only provides a child with external motivation instead of the inner motivation required for self-discipline. It means that, when a child is punished, he may comply. However, he may comply just to avoid the punishment. Also, the child may be doing the dodging act, just to avoid being caught. Unfortunately, a parent may think that the child has become obedient (Discipline and Development, Pg3).

Most of the time, punishment or threat of punishment does lead to parents nagging and grudging besides resentful compliance on the children’s part. A parent then realises that his consequences are not useful. They then believe that the punishment they administered to the child was not enough or severe to stop the child’s misbehaviour. Such belief has often caused unnecessary conflict thus damaging the relationship between a parent and a child. Also, self-control and confidence during childhood cannot be learnt from punishment. Therefore, punishment plays a petite part in teaching discipline and self-control to a child, neither does it provide him with an alternative behaviour. For instance, physical punishment can be ineffective when compared to time-out.  It can stop or decrease the undesired behaviour. However, its efficiency always decreases with its subsequent application. It is because, the only way to sustain it initial impact is by systematically increasing the punishment’s intensity, which eventually escalates into an abuse.  However, for punishment to be quite effective, then it must be applied in infrequent and selective circumstances (American Academy of Paediatrics, Pg.523).

According to America Human Association, discipline is how a child learns right from wrong or acceptable from unacceptable. It is part of a child’s natural development. In their childhood, children tend to test parental expectation and authority. Therefore, discipline process must be designed in ways that help children to develop healthy engagements with their fellow children and enable them to control their behaviour. Committee for Children states the fundamental purpose for child discipline is to enhance the child’s moral, physical and intellectual development.  Eventually, when the child grows up, he will always stick to doing the right thing. He will not act right out of fear of the external reprisal but because of he had internalised some standards of behaviour, which had been instilled in him by his parents.

The objective of discipline is to help a child achieve self-confidence, self-control, care for others and self-direction. Besides, for discipline to be objective and effective, it must have three elements. Proper learning environment is the first element. That is, the learning environment must be characterised by a positive and healthy parent to child relationship. Existence strategy as the second element provides a systematic learning of the desired behaviour. Lastly is the elimination plan for undesired actions. Because of a structured discipline that has the three elements, a child or an adolescent is able to integrate his parent’s behaviour and expectations into his behaviour. He eventually develops an understanding of the laid rules. Hence, the consequences associated with those rules, guide his ways. A parent must therefore employ various strategies of discipline as his child develops more freedom or independence (American Academy of Paediatrics, Pg.723).

The strategies that parents can apply for their children to learn and adopt positive behaviours include; providing the children with positive attention. It creates an opportunity for communicating and interacting positively with their children.  During the special time, a parent should listen carefully to his child and help him learn how to express his feeling with words. The child should be provided with the opportunity to make his choices when options for choices are available. Choices allow the children or adolescents to evaluate possible consequences for the misbehaviour. On the other hand, a parent must reinforce any desirable behaviour that a child adopts by praising the child. However, the adult must have realistic expectations on how the child must behave through being fair and turning a disciplinary process into a learning opportunity for his child. Therefore, boundaries should be set to avoid injuring or harming a child. The discussed strategies will enable the child to internalize a desired behaviour thus making it a foundation for adopting more desired behaviours (Discipline and Development, Pg3).

Therefore, punishment is not appropriate because it entails aggressive behaviour that a parent does not want a child to possess. It only breeds resentment and increases violence thus leading to child abuse. Social workers dictate that good parenting should involve non-violent and appropriate methods of disciplining a child. Parents should be good role models. Therefore, they should teach children the negative consequences of their misbehaviour by using incentives, establishing firm and rational limits and using time-outs.

Cited From

American Humane Association: Child Protection Position Statements, 2009, Pg 16.Committee for Children (2004).

American Academy of Paediatrics: Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health; Guidance for Effective Discipline, 2015

American Humane Association: Child Protection Position Statements, 2009, Pg 16.Committee for Children (2004).

Discipline and Development: Prevent Child Abuse America; 2011Sarah Smenyak. The Difference between Discipline and Child Abuse. 2015 Press