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Are You Disciplining Your Child Or Seeking Revenge?

When discussing the topic of raising children, discipline is often the first thing that comes to mind. Children need discipline. Full stop. But what is discipline? And how do we draw the line between discipline and revenge?

The origin of the word "discipline" can be traced back to the Latin word "disciplina," which means "instruction" or "teaching." Over time, however, discipline has come to be synonymous with punishment, with parents relying on shame, fear, and/or physical pain to curb undesirable behavior.

Teaching takes time, so nipping it in the bud in whatever fashion parents deem necessary (within reason) has become the norm. But is this what’s best for children? And when does it become less about curbing undesirable behavior and more about getting our licks back for offenses we feel our children should know better to do?

In my work as a parenting coach, I’ve often heard parents say, “I asked him nicely three times before spanking him. He didn’t stop doing it until I did, so clearly talking doesn’t work.”

And the parent isn’t wrong. Talking often doesn’t work the first, the third, or the even the 10th time. And the reason is directly tied to brain development.

Children cannot and do not process information the way an adult can. Auditory processing is not fully developed until a child is 14 or 15 years old. And even then, if a child has auditory processing delays or Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), they may always struggle with processing auditory commands. According to Susie S. Loraine, MA, CCC-SLP, the term auditory processing refers to how the brain perceives and interprets sound information. Several skills determine auditory processing ability—or listening success. They develop in a general four-step hierarchy, but all work together and are essential for daily listening.

Without this understanding, discipline can easily become revenge because parents will then view their child’s misdeeds as a personal slight. Instead of teaching them to do better, parents now want to show them the consequences of not doing better. This is why it's imperative for parents to discern between discipline and revenge to maintain healthy relationships with their children.


​Understanding The Intent

Discipline is rooted in love and concern for the child's well-being. It focuses on teaching lessons and helping children understand the consequences of their actions. Conversely, revenge-driven actions stem from a desire to inflict pain or punishment as payback for perceived slights or disobedience. Parents should reflect on their motives before taking disciplinary actions. Ask yourself whether your intention is to help your child learn or to make them suffer for upsetting you.

Example: If a child accidentally breaks a valuable item, a disciplinary response would involve discussing the importance of being careful and working with the child to come up with a way to replace or fix what they’ve broken. On the other hand, a vengeful reaction might involve yelling, harsh punishment, or bringing up past mistakes to intensify guilt.

​Maintaining Emotional Regulation

Effective discipline requires parents to remain calm and composed, even in challenging situations. It's natural to feel upset or frustrated when children misbehave, but responding with anger or resentment can escalate the situation and blur the line between discipline and revenge. Before addressing the issue, take a moment to breathe and collect your thoughts.

Example: If a child cannot follow instructions, a disciplined response would involve calmly explaining why their cooperation is necessary in working with the child to accomplish the goal. Conversely, a retaliatory response might involve shouting, name-calling, or resorting to physical punishment out of anger.

​Promoting Growth and Learning

Discipline should always aim to promote growth and learning. It involves guiding children toward making better choices and understanding the impact of their actions on themselves and others. Effective discipline strategies include positive reinforcement, setting clear expectations, and providing opportunities for reflection and growth.

Example: If a child repeatedly forgets to complete their chores, a disciplinary approach would involve discussing the importance of responsibility and finding solutions together, such as creating a chore chart or setting reminders with Siri or Alexa. In contrast, a revenge-driven response might involve imposing overly harsh punishments or belittling the child, which can undermine their self-esteem and hinder their ability to learn from their mistakes.

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Building Trust and Communication

Trust and open communication are essential components of a healthy parent-child relationship. Discipline should strengthen this bond by fostering trust and encouraging children to confide in their parents without fear of judgment or retaliation. When children feel safe and supported, they're more likely to accept discipline as a form of guidance rather than punishment.

Example: If a child admits to breaking a rule or making a mistake, a disciplined response would involve listening to their perspective, discussing the consequences of their actions, and working together to find a solution. Conversely, a retaliatory response might involve accusations, blame, or shutting down communication, which can erode trust and damage the parent-child relationship.

Seeking Professional Guidance

If you find it challenging to distinguish between discipline and revenge or struggle to manage your emotions effectively, seeking professional guidance can be beneficial. Parenting workshops, counseling, or therapy can provide valuable insights and strategies for implementing positive discipline techniques and improving parent-child relationships.

Parenting is a learning journey, and, disciplining children is a delicate balance between guiding them toward responsible behavior and nurturing their growth. By understanding the intent behind our actions, maintaining emotional regulation, promoting growth and learning, building trust and communication, and seeking professional guidance when needed, as parents we can help our children built on love, respect, and understanding.

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Featured image by Courtney Hale/Getty Images




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