I love the questions kids ask. They are so honest, real, and vulnerable.
In our family, we are past the dizzying early childhood stage of 400+ questions per day and into the deep, thoughtful, reflective, every-so-often questions of the “tween” and teen years. The questions my kids ask me now are sometimes delightful in their perceptivity, and something challenging in their audacity.
They always make me think about things differently and force me to explain things, which really helps me understand them better! Someone once said you really know something when you can teach someone about it. This is what my kids are forcing me into right now, and I absolutely love it (most of the time)!
The other day one of my daughters was expressing some “attitude” (parents will know exactly what this is!), and I needed to make sure she felt some consequence from it. She was understandably upset about this and in her frustration proclaimed, “It feels like you’re punishing me!” I told her I wasn’t punishing her at all, but rather was letting her experience discipline, to which she asked, “So what’s the difference between punishment and discipline!?!?”
I knew there was a difference, but I wasn’t sure how to explain it to her. So I told her it was a great question, and that I would have to think about it for a bit. After thinking and researching for a bit, I came up with the chart below, and used it to discuss with my daughter the distinction between these very different postures.
Punishment focuses on making someone pay for their past misdeeds, making sure they get what they deserve so they never do it again. It uses guilt, fear, and shame to modify behavior. In the end, it is completely disempowering and only succeeds in crushing people.
On the other hand, discipline focuses on guiding people into future maturity and fruitfulness, making sure they get what they need so they can be transformed. It uses grace-filled consequences and conversation to train people in the character of Christ. It empowers people toward a better future.
After explaining this to my daughter, her countenance changed and she exclaimed, “Oh, that makes sense!”
Punishment and discipline can look similar, but they are very different parenting postures. Learning the grace-filled posture of discipline (rather than the shame-filled posture of punishment) has been a game-changer for our family.
- For more on parenting from a place of grace, check out Jeff VanVonderan’s book Families Where Grace Is In Place.
- For more on what it looks like to make disciples as a spiritual parent, check out the book Family on Mission.