Discipline with Love


People usually associate “punishment” with the word discipline and generally define discipline as a reward and punishment system.

However, punishment only serves to

  • Lower self-esteem,
  • Creates strain in the relationship and
  • Is rarely effective in eliminating the distressing behaviour. It can be a more serious threat to another person’s wellbeing than the target behaviour.

A further effect of punishment is that

  • It induces fear .

This leads to many behaviours that need to be talked out going underground and not being spoken about.Depending on the frequency, intensity, endurance of the punishing responses, the child will not have the emotional, physical, intellectual and social safety to voice needs dissatisfaction, fears and insecurities. There are no parents who do not lose control with children now and again, but once they apologize and heal the rift in the relationship, such lapses do not have a lasting effect on a child’s welfare.

What Parents need to know.

It needs to be realised that parents do not deliberately want to block their children’s progress,neither do children deliberately want to make life difficult for their parents.

The true nature of discipline is about assertion and action on one’s own rights and needs.

Discipline is the practice of care and respect towards others and towards self.

The aim of discipline is to create emotional and social safety in the social system.

The purpose of discipline is to provide sanctuary for both parent whose rights have been violated and for the child.

Key issues when disciplining are:

  • Do not jeopardise relationship when disciplining
  • Correct the behaviour, not the child
  • All challenging behaviour makes sense

Boundaries Boundaries Boundaries

The importance of Boundary Setting can never be emphasised enough for all children and adults alike. However, children who are holding trauma need boundaries even more so as boundaries provide the containment essential for a safe emotional, psychological holding environment for the child.

Many adults view boundaries as being about punishment. Nothing could be further from the truth.  I like to think of boundaries as security blankets we wrap around our children and ourselves at the same time. For example, if a child is acting out on a regular basis it is indicating that the child is feeling over aroused or overwhelmed by circumstances in her environment. Usually it is not the presenting problem that is the real issue but a deep underlying feeling of fear, as fear drives all emergency feelings. The fears usually being fear of abandonment, fear of not belonging and the greatest fear of all fear of not being loved unconditionally. Fear is a very powerful motivator that moves us out of balance. By addressing the fear and not the anger, we then address the real problem and the anger dissipates.  If a child is acting out the caregiver needs firstly to set a boundary for themselves so as not to engage in the ensuing battle. The adult needs to take action for self which may be to leave the space. Emotion is much stronger than reason so trying to reason with a child who is in an emotional state will be ineffective.

When Setting Boundaries Always Remember… A B C

Acknowledge the feelings/wishes of the child. A child hitting her brother

“It sounds like you are really angry”.

Boundary setting. However, I need to keep you safe.

Choice and Consequence. You can play nicely together or go and play on your own for 10 mins. (See appendix for more on choices and consequences).

Acknowledging the child’s feeling will help them feel listened to and understood. Giving the child the opportunity to discuss his feelings and what happened will help him and you to understand why it happened. Consequences need to be natural as much as possible. In setting consequences don’t put yourself under pressure to think of one immediately. Give yourself time to think and revisit it when you have decided on one. Often times the child can be included in choosing the consequence. Consequences don’t need to be enormous but simple and most importantly to be adhered to. For example half an hour less on the ipad is enough as long as they know you mean business. Even if they don’t seem to care, once you are persistent and consistent they will learn. Their attitude of not caring can have the effect that you give up or give in and that is precisely what you don’t do.

When Setting Consequences.


What expectations and consequences are appropriate for child’s age?

Does the child understand the link between their actions and their result?

Does child understand the rule?

Does the child need practice and coaching in effective behaviour?

Will you be able to apply the consequences you agree on with consistency and predictability every time?

Give yourself time to think of a natural one rather than giving one you know you won’t keep.

I suggest little, medium and big boundaries. If a child is writing on the wall they may need a little boundary to remind them that walls are not for writing on and give them paper instead.

If the child continues to write on the wall, a medium boundary may be to gently take her arm away from the wall.

If this doesn’t work then steering the child towards alternative or removing the crayons is the next big boundary

All Behaviour Makes Sense

It is important for us to realise in all of this that “all behaviour makes sense” and behaviour acts as a protection to further hurt and loss. The two main ways that children can do this is by becoming over demanding or under demanding. By being over demanding a child is sure to get some of his needs met so will offset rejection while the under demanding child will achieve the same result by not asking for anything therefore never experiencing rejection. How ingenious! Stereotyping has resulted mostly in males engaging in acting out behaviours, such as aggression and being demanding and girls usually acting in by being shy, timid, and fearful. These types of behaviours are equally challenging and the people operating from either of these places are insecure. Oftentimes the person who is acting- in is overlooked because they do not “appear” to be having difficulties unlike the aggressor whose disruptive behaviour gets the attention of many. Discipline is about care of self, therefore people who act -in are neglecting themselves and they need to learn how to support and unconditionally love themselves. When a parent is confronted with acting- out behaviour it is important that s/he separates the behaviour from the child, and to take action for self not against the child. S/he needs to look at what lies hidden beneath to ascertain the intention of the behaviour in order to find the solution.

Discipline problems will continue in all aspects of society and more serious problems will emerge if safeguarding actions are not taken to help both the perpetrator and the victim. The rights of both children and adults need to be safeguarded and these rights are listed by Humphreys in the followings six dimensions as: physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual, social and creative (ibid:55).

Rights and Responsibilities

It is the parents’ responsibility to uphold the rights of their children in the home. They do this by loving them unconditionally, accepting their uniqueness and respecting their needs in relation to the six dimensions as listed above.

All too often parents neglect their own rights and the consequences can have devastating effects not only for themselves but for their children. How many parents put their own lives “on hold” until the children are older. In doing this they fail to set boundaries for themselves. The example they are setting for their children is that they will not know or stand up for their own rights and the rights of others. Parents have a right to be loved and respected by their partner and children, to be communicated with in a clear and direct manner. They have a right to independence and financial equality and security. On the issue of their children’s education they have a right to be involved in, consulted on and concerned about their education. If their rights to safety are violated in any respect they have the right to seek help outside the home if necessary without fear of any recriminations.

Just as parents have responsibilities towards their children so too children have responsibilities towards their parents. Children need to be made aware of these responsibilities from a young age. The importance of this is demonstrated by Humphreys when he states that “the foundation of children’s respect for others is the respect they show to their parents; it will also determine the respect they have for themselves” (1998:73).


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