The Key to Raising Our Children


Discipline VS Punishment

By Noha Abu Sitta

Many of us, confuse discipline with punishment. We think they are synonyms although they are more like antonyms! We often think by punishing our children that we are disciplining them. When in fact, we might be perpetuating the misbehavior and creating a volatile relationship with our children. Let’s dig deeper into the best way to discipline our children.

‘Discipline’ is basically ‘guidance’. It comes from a Greek word that means, ‘to train’. It is defined in the dictionary as, “A method of training to produce obedience and self-control.”  It is a positive and constructive act; an act of love not revenge or anger. Its’ sole purpose is to create a mature responsible adult out of your child. It’s built on love and respect.

‘Punishment’, on the other hand, is defined as, “To cause someone to suffer.” It is a negative and destructive act. Its’ sole purpose is to instantly stop a specific behavior through making the doer suffer (either physically or psychologically). It is an act of anger due to the lack of anger management skill. It makes the child feel disrespected, impaired and a failure! It involves no training or permanent fixing of the behavior. Punishment teaches no skills. Moreover we tend to punish our children by the same punitive method regardless of individual personality traits and needs. This is detrimental and results in one child responding to the punishment, while the other one doesn’t.

Although misbehavior sounds like a negative concept, there is a great positive side to it, let’s take a closer look!

Misbehavior is an opportunity to discipline your child:

Now let’s look deeper into the meaning of ‘misbehavior’. There is always a reason behind a misbehaving child. It usually results from a need whether it is:

  • Physical: hungry, thirsty, tired, sick or in pain.
  • Psychological: need to feel loved, noticed or cared for.

Misbehavior is simply a lack of the skill needed to deal with/express the feelings that result from physical or psychological needs. Our children need to be trained to master such skills especially the social ones. All children at a young age are naturally selfish and self-centered. They can’t be expected to care for others’ feelings and concerns yet, but they need and can be trained to do so. Think of what your child needs when he misbehaves and what you can do to correct this behavior.

Handling misbehavior is a skill both you and your child need to learn to deal with.

We tend to punish our children when they misbehave believing that this will teach them a lesson and that they won’t repeat that behavior ever again! In fact, punishment can result in two things:

  • Temporarily terminating the behavior out of fear. Misbehavior is most likely to be repeated again after a certain age when the child overcomes their fears or behind mommy’s back!
  • Challenging stubbornness when they don’t really care that much about punishment as long as they do what they have in mind!

Is that what we would really like to achieve with our kids? Or should we arm them with the skills that would enabled them to choose to stop that misbehavior themselves?

The key is in the two C’s: ‘Consequences and Consistency’ :

A ‘consequence’ is defined in the dictionary as, “Something that follows from an action or set of conditions. It is a result.” A consequence is an expected result that is previously agreed upon before the occurrence of the misbehavior, thus it is a fair act unlike punishment which is usually a sudden reaction born out of uncontrolled anger!

So when a misbehavior occurs:

  • We sit down with our children – after the situation ends and we have both calmed down – and discuss what has happened: We acknowledge the validity of the feelings we both had yet the invalidity of how we handled them and how to avoid this situation from re-occurring with the exact same details again.
  • After we both understand and accept each other’s feelings and brainstorm on alternative ways to deal with such a situation, we start discussing the consequences that will result if this behavior re-occurs again.
  • Be clear with your child that he only has another chance to correct his choice of dealing with the same situation when it reoccurs (which we call misbehavior). If he wasted this chance then the next time the misbehavior occurs it will be his choice to accept the consequences that were previously agreed upon.
  • Consequences vary from a child to another. It is usually about limiting or withdrawing something that they really like such as their screen time, a favorite toy, pocket money, bedtime story, a favorite meal, or a place that they were promised to go to!

This sort of deal is more or less like our civil laws in our adult world. You know the law and you are told beforehand about the consequences/penalties for breaking it. You might be forgiven the first time you break it if it’s not too serious. However, if you deliberately break the law once again then you will have no other choice but to accept the consequence based on your wrong choices and you can’t claim that it’s not fair.

For consequences to be effective, they have to be practical, appropriate, easily applicable and consistent. So carefully choose your list of consequences! If you know that you can break the law and be manipulative and get away with it, you’ll never respect that law or the authority behind it! Every single time this law is broken, there are no exceptions to be given! This is when consequences become really effective!

In that sense, a consequence is a fair result to an action that was deliberately taken, having the consequence of doing it preset in mind. This is how our ‘Adult world’ is run, thus this is a productive and responsible life skill to teach our kids


Noha Abu Sitta is a certified Health Coach for children up to 12 years old, by the Dr. William Sears Wellness Center. She is also a certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator by Dr. Jane Nelson and Dr. Lynn Lott. Noha regularly conducts parenting, health and nutrition courses covering a variety of topics. She also makes regular appearances on TV programs to dispense her expert advice. Noha is available at City Clinic in Nada Compound, Sheikh Zayed for health and parenting coaching.

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