Is it punishment, or Discipline?

Published: May 1, 2020

Author: Rene Elsbury; MSW, LSW
Home Based Therapist


When I hear the word punishment I think about when I was a little girl and having to clean my room on a sunny day; I felt like my parents hated me because they didn’t let me play with my friends. I also remember the arguments I had with my parents about curfews in high school. It felt so unfair when my friends didn’t have to be home as early as I did. When I reflect on my childhood, I don’t think about the spankings that I received as they were far and few between, or getting my mouth washed out with soap for calling my Dad a bad name. Maybe it was because I felt I deserved the punishments more when I understood what I was doing was wrong, rather than just a quick spanking without any explanation.

As a parent, my perspective has changed when it comes to punishment and discipline. What felt like horrible consequences as a child were just discipline. My parents were setting boundaries to teach me how to be responsible, accountable and most importantly to keep me safe. I do the same thing with my children today; my approach is just a little different. I discipline my children by setting boundaries. I want my children safe from harm and I want my children to learn to be responsible adults and learn the life skills that they will need to function as adults. I want the same things for my children that my parents wanted for me and now I understand their perspective more than ever. So, I set curfews and have clear rules about internet use and phone use. My children have age appropriate chores that they are expected to complete each week and when they don’t do their chores, they have privileges removed. I’m sure they feel like I’m a mean mom and that I’m punishing them, but really I’m just using discipline techniques that I know are effective.

Why am I not spanking, smacking, yelling, locking bedroom doors, and using soap? It's not because I’m a therapist - I was a parent for many years before I became a therapist. Although, becoming a therapist has made me better understand why punishment is not an effective form of discipline. I don’t punish my children because that is not what taught me the life-long lessons as a child. It was the discipline and structure that my parents provided: bedtimes routines, set meal times, homework, and playtime. It was the organization of knowing what to expect day in and day out. It was having privileges like playing with friends, enjoying popsicles, and watching my favorite tv show being removed when I didn't follow the house rules. It was the safety measures and curfews, having to talk to parents of friends I wanted to play with, and having to wear a helmet on bike rides that helped me develop into a capable and responsible adult. It was having the rules and expectations clearly spelled out for me as a child and not just being made up on the spot. It was explaining the reason behind the discipline when I didn’t understand the rule. These are the things that taught me the lessons that I needed to get to where I am today.

I hope that one day my children will look back and remember that I loved them. I hope they know that I did my best to keep them safe and learn how to succeed in life by teaching them what they would need for their future. I’m grateful I learned those hard life lessons with love and support and could prove that I could be trusted to make good choices.  Hopefully, my children will learn that, too. At the end of the day, I want what all parents want- I want my children healthy, happy, and safe.