When it comes to parenting younger stepchildren the difference between discipline and punishment can be confusing. Adults in charge often see these terms as synonymous but the concepts are unique. There is a place for both as you build your blended family and nurture the individuals involved.
Letís start by taking a look at the intent of discipline. You may be surprised to find that it is a positive word. It is also a proactive one that suggests a strategy for the future. The definition of discipline is a plan or course of teaching responsibility and self control. It is also guidance, structure, expectations and a system of logical consequences. Discipline is what arms us with discernment, character and moral standards. It helps a child to grow into his role in the family unit and the outside world. But discipline can also involve correction when behavior or actions require remedial training or a reinforcement of the rules already in place.
Punishment, on the other hand, is a negative term related to chastisement and penalty. Punishment is the consequence of disobedience. The rules of your household are the governing principles for the health, safety and harmony of your family. Each member needs to be fully aware of them. Wherever possible the consequence of not obeying should be announced in advance. Whether it is spanking, time-out or the removal of privileges it is important that a child be clear about the matter of his misbehavior and that the punishment is reasonable and age-appropriate. Children are learning to make choices at each stage of their development and disobedience is a choice!
Punishing out of anger is dangerous and punishing out of annoyance or inconvenience is selfish. For very young children consider allowing them another chance to correct their behavior. If our true goal is to teach and not prove our superiority, then we can easily turn a punishable moment into an important lesson in discipline. A simple test: Does the rule, expectation or punishment encourage the healthy growth of the child and his relationship with the parent or is it to make our own life easier?
Self-discipline is achieved when the experience of operating within a framework becomes internalized or natural. Reasonable, understandable and fair rules which are enforced without favoritism and acknowledged with positive feedback are the building blocks of character and personal values. Self-disciplined children have a greater likelihood of excelling in school and achieving success as adults. They are better equipped to weather the disappointments of life. Self-discipline is not to be mistaken for conformity. It is the willful participation in the membership of a managed group. Experts indicate that long-term conformity (forced compliance) without free will leads to resentment, covert actions and eventually outright rebellion. This is an excellent argument for children being allowed to share in the rulemaking process in their new family. Provide them with choices wherever practical. As grown-ups we thrive on variety and selection and kids need that experience, too. Their skills and talents are being developed at the same time as their values.
In closing, I must emphasize the affirmative impact of forgiveness, second chances and compassion when loving parents make decisions about discipline and punishment. I think of how often I have been the recipient of this kind of grace and it motivates me to return it. If you have ever benefited from the mercy of others be sure to include it in your step-parenting plan. God Bless.