When it comes to children, parents prioritise modelling good behaviour above all else. This is because it provides an example for others to follow, fostering positive social norms and values. In addition, it helps cultivate empathy, respect, and cooperation, contributing to a harmonious environment. Different parents have varied parenting styles. While some adopt gentle means, others resort to punishment. But is punishment really the way towards discipline? Dr Himani Narula, Developmental and Behavioral Paediatrician Director and Co-founder of Continua kids, Gurgaon, shares insights.
Punishment Versus Discipline
“Punishment typically involves imposing penalties for misbehaviour, while discipline focuses on teaching and guiding behaviour through positive methods,” says Dr Narula.
While punishment focuses on inflicting consequences for wrong actions, often emphasising negative outcomes, discipline, on the other hand, centres around teaching, guiding, and shaping behaviour through gentleness and positivity, emphasising on learning and personal growth. The latter therefore promotes long-term understanding and self-regulation, whereas punishment may lead to fear and resentment.
Examples of punishment include restrictions, or loss of privileges, scolding, yelling, using physical means, such as hitting, slapping, pushing. These types of punishment aim to discourage misconduct and encourage adherence to rules.
However, a study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found that punishment in no way teaches children to behave instead has negative effects on child behavioural and cognitive development.
The Ill-Effects Of Punishment
This can have a great effect on the child’s development and mental health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), punishment can make children not only experience pain, sadness, fear, anger, shame and guilt, but also feel threatened, which leads to physiological stress and the activation of neural pathways that support dealing with danger.
“Children who have been physically punished tend to exhibit high hormonal reactivity to stress, overloaded biological systems, including the nervous, cardiovascular and nutritional systems, and changes in brain structure and function,” the global health body adds.
Alternatives To Punishment That Can Help Model Good Behaviour In Kids
Here are some gentle alternatives to punishment, as per Dr Narula:
- Using time-outs
- Setting clear expectations
- Offering rewards for good behaviour
- Using logical consequences that are related to the misdeed
- Positive reinforcement
- Modelling desired behaviour
Discipline involves giving children clear instructions and helping them understand negative consequences.
"A consequence is what happens immediately after a behaviour. Consequences can be both positive and negative. Positive consequences show your child she has done something you like. Your child is more likely to repeat the behaviour when you use positive consequences. Negative consequences let your child know you do not like what she has done. Your child is less likely to repeat the behaviour when you use negative consequences. Negative consequences are also called discipline," explains the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“It is however important for parents to remember that every child is different, so it’s important to tailor your approach to their individual personality and needs. The goal is to teach them self-discipline, problem-solving skills, and respect for themselves and others,” Dr Narula concludes.