3 Reasons Why Discipline is Harder Than Punishment

The other day I asked a friend of mine who also has 3 young children how much time, as a percentage, he spends in disciplining his kids. “85%” was the answer he gave. My response?

“Really? That little?”

As a parent, you have to be engaged in the discipline of your kids in one form or another. Sometimes that discipline is reactionary. They make a bad choice, and you bring the discipline. Sometimes it’s just teaching, disciplining them about how to live in the world. But discipline seems like a very important part of parenting to me. If you need proof, I bet you could ask any childcare worker at your church or the YMCA or the local daycare what is one thing a parent could do to make their job easier, and you’d probably get back, “Play a more active role in disciplining your kids.”

But disicpline isn’t the same thing as punishment. In fact, discipline is a heck of a lot harder than punishment. Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Discipline takes longer. If you are stricly punishing your kids, then just put them in time out. Or spank them. Whatever it is you do in your house.You can do it quickly, and then it’s over and done with. The reason why punishment is quicker is because the goal of punishment is exclusively reactive; they did something bad, and you need to make sure they don’t do it again. But when you discipline, your goal isn’t just behavioral; it’s about the heart. Heart formation takes much longer than behavior modification. That leads us to the second reason why discipline is harder:

2. Discipline requires teaching. If punishment is about behavior modification, then the “why” isn’t really important. All you are doing is trying to create compliant kids. But with discipline, you have to go deeper. You have to (in 5-year-old language) help a child understand not only that what they did was wrong, but why what they did was wrong. It requires you to help them think about their actions not just in terms of consequences, but in terms of motivation. Which leads us to reason 3:

3. The focus of discipline is deeper. Punishment is about behaving; disciplining is about becoming. When you choose the hard, long, thoughtful road of discipline, you are more concerned about the future – the long future. You are seeking not just to break bad habits, but to instill a need for the gospel now in your kids that will form not just their actions but their hearts in the years to come.

For how to discipline rather than punish, we look to the Lord as our Heavenly Father. Indeed, if we spend so much of our time as parents disciplining our kids, then we can’t really talk about God as Father without realizing that He’s engaged in that work of discipline, too. God is committed not to our behavior but our hearts; not just in what we do but to what we are becoming. That’s why He disciplines rather than punishes His kids. God help us to do the same.

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No Comments

  • I love this blog! I had a 3 kids, too. This is practically a good advise,biblical and very friendly. Send me more! I can’t wait!
    This blog is worth reading,and very educational. I thanks God for this kind of Blog.

  • Steve says:

    I am in full agreement with you juanitotolentino! I LOVE this blog too! I have a little bit of a different perspective on this post, as I’m still expecting my first child so I’ve never had to discipline or punish yet. It’s very exciting to watch him grow (more like watch his home grow) and feel the kicks, but when it comes time that he’s actually here and running around, I hope I will be humble and follow the Lord to properly know the way to raise him and teach him with love and discipline.

  • Michael K. says:

    Thank you guys for your kind words.

  • Megan Thomas says:

    Thank you for posting this Michael. I have just started reading a book recommended to me on this exact subject titled, “Shepharding a Child’s Heart” by Tedd Tripp. It focuses on Luke 6:45, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”

  • Steve says:

    I think the goal in discipline, punishment, correction is a heart change. As a parent I was looking for a softening of the hearts of my children to see if they really understood what the problem was. I only have two children (both young adults now), one was pretty quick to soften, the other was a lot more stubborn, but she would get there eventually.

  • Michael K. says:

    Great book, Megan. We love that around our house too.

  • aaron shaver says:

    You just gave this soon to be dad a lot to think about.

    Way to go, Michael .. 🙂

  • Colin Wee says:

    When I was a house husband parenting the kids full time ‘discipline’ was easy (well in your words ‘harder’ and ‘takes longer’), but easy because I could set the stage, ensure they’ve got a nurturing environment, they could stay away from doing the wrong thing, and then warned when they need to be warned. I like the Montessori idea that the root word of ‘discipline’ is ‘disciple’. They need to quieten their mind and refocus, and thus it promotes a more positive understanding of the word. It is far easier to punish and take punitive measures. Discipline requires more parenting cunning. Colin

    No Smacking Discipline

  • Steve says:

    Hey Michael,
    I wasn’t sure how to comment about this as you don’t have a contact by email link here at FP, but I was hoping you’d still get an email notification for a comment on an old post.

    I was wondering if you’ve heard of the book Loving our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk. I ask because I always read Forward Progress and frequently comment, and find your blog encouraging in faith and parenting. I always love your posts about your kids and was curious to know your opinion if you had read the book.

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