Part 1: Clear Communication

by | Discipline-Based Series

Discipline-based parenting consistently makes the effort to communicate fairly and clearly; punishment-based parenting is not concerned with communicating either clearly or fairly.

Discipline-based Parenting

Discipline-based parents are more likely to bring about the desired and appropriate behavior changes that they want to see and expect in their kids. While punishment-based parenting may lead to immediate behavior changes, it is also likely to tear down the sense of self worth, leave kids feeling insecure, while only temporarily motivated to comply.

Since discipline-based parents place a high priority on clear and fair communication, when a problem arises that requires discipline, they are careful to state fairly and specifically what they think the problem is, along with an explanation as to why what has just happened is unacceptable.  They then communicate specifically what the consequences are (or will be if at this point they are simply warning).  Communicating in clear and fair terms fits well with their efforts to be consistent and also helps establish the important ingredient of predictability.

Punishment-based Parenting

Punishment-based parents do not usually place a high priority on communicating clearly, fairly, nor specifically what they expect from their kids. Usually it seems to be of little importance to them that they communicate in clear and specific terms (when ever possible and ahead of time) what the consequences will be if the unacceptable behavior continues.

They are usually concerned primarily with putting an immediate end to the unacceptable behaviors that are present at the time.  Not only is their main goal to bring to a screeching halt the undesired behaviors, it is usually their only goal and objective. Since they usually involve few words to clarify or to explain, they leave their kids feeling surprised and caught off guard.

The idea that the misbehavior or challenge to their authority could possibly provide a valuable learning opportunity with their kids doesn’t usually cross their minds.  And since punishment for the purpose of bringing about immediate behavior change is their primary focus, their kids are often left surprised and caught off guard-even when they may actually know what it is they did that was unacceptable.

There are usually few words of clarification or explanation that could help their kids learn or understand.  As a result, they are left on their own to figure out what just happened, what can be learned, and what consequences they can expect if their unacceptable behavior doesn’t stop.

What’s a Parent to Do?

Kids-especially our younger ones-do not yet have the full capacity to effectively and successfully process and evaluate what is appropriate behavior and what is not.  Nor are they always capable of clearly understanding what it is that we expect from them without our telling them.  They must learn much of this through their interactions with us after they have misbehaved or challenged us.  Our kids are, in fact, an “unfinished product”.

When they have misbehaved or challenged our authority, it is easy for us to assume that either they do know, or that possibly they are intentionally challenging our authority in order to gain control over us.  While this may at times be the case, there are also times, especially with our younger kids, when they simply don’t know how they are to be, or what it is we expect from them.  It is for this reason important that we clearly and fairly communicate verbally along with any actions we need to use.  It is our efforts to do so that will help them learn more appropriate and acceptable ways of conducting themselves and what consequences they can expect when they don’t.

The following situation occurs millions of times a day in grocery stores all across this great nation:

It’s after work Mom is exhausted, in a hurry, frustrated by the long lines at the check-out stand, and to top it all off, she is overwhelmed by the high prices of groceries these days.  Scott is in his usual place inside the cart that Mom is frantically pushing down and around the isles.  Unlike Mom, he is in no particular hurry, nor do the high prices or long lines overwhelm him much.  But he is tired, and just like his mom, he too is hungry.

Since he’s hungry and because it is his nature to want just about anything within his reach-especially if it contains sugar-he continues to ask Mom to buy things that are not on her shopping list.  With each, “no, not today”, Scott responds with a whinny, “why?” and a continuation of the begging and pleading.

Consider the following discipline-based parenting response to this all too common grocery store experience:

“Scott, we came to the store today for just a few things that are on our shopping list.  I am not going to buy anything else, and I want you to stop asking”.  (Scott continues to beg, plead and whine anyway).  “Hold it Scott.  I told you that I do not plan to buy anything that is not on our list.  I also made it clear to you that I did not want you to continue to ask me to buy more.  You can either continue to beg me and to bug me, and to whine when I refuse, or you can choose to stop right now.

If you decide that you are going to continue to ask me to buy things that I do not want to buy, then when we get home you will eat dinner and go right to bed.  You will not be able to play your usual game or to watch your favorite T.V. program. So you have a choice to make.  If you choose to stop begging and pleading, then I think you and I can make the best of our trip to the store and maybe even have a good time talking about something other than what you want me to buy.  So what’s it going to be?”

We’ll never know what choice Scott made.  But we do know (as did he) that if he made the decision to continue begging and whining, that he went right home, ate dinner, did not play his favorite game, and did not get to watch his favorite and customary T.V. program.  We know this because that’s what Mom clearly and fairly communicated.  It is this kind of communication and follow-through with specific consequences that is an important part of discipline-based parenting.

Compare the above discipline-based parenting approach with the following punishment-based parenting approach:

The same weary, overwhelmed Mom, with the same demanding, whining Scott) “Stop begging and whining or I’ll give you something whine about!  I knew I shouldn’t have brought you with me to the store today. If you don’t quit making my life even more miserable than it already is, you’ll pay dearly when we get home.  I might even just leave you here!”

If time were the only consideration, then possibly this punishment-based parenting approach would have worked just fine.  What time-pressed and weary parent would choose a dialogue and interaction with their kids that takes ten times the amount of time and energy to complete if the shorter effort would get the job done just as well?

The point to keep in mind here is that even if the shorter punishment-based approach worked in getting an immediate behavior change (although it usually doesn’t even accomplish that) it does not clearly communicate the values that are important for parents to instill in their kids.  Instead it leaves them at the very least, confused and usually angry as well-not so much because they failed to get their way, but rather, because of how they were treated in the process.

This is an important idea to give further consideration to:

It is not usually their failing to get their way that lights a fire of rebellion and chronic anger under our kids, but rather how we treat them in the process of our saying no and expressing expectations.

Raising great, healthy and angry-free kids really does take more time, more thought, and certainly it takes more effort than does simply “growing” a kid.  Quite honestly, it would be much easier for us parents if we could somehow extract the desired behavior changes from our kids with just a little pain that didn’t leave physical or emotional scars! Or if only all it took was for us to throw out some ill defined “catastrophic expectations” our kids could count on when they misbehaved, and they would be frightened into submission.

A punishment-based parenting approach would be tempting for most of us if our only goal were to raise kids who just simply behaved, rather than kids who did indeed learn to behave, but who were also(because of our extra efforts) emotionally healthy as well.

But the wonderful-and sometimes taxing-task of raising healthy kids requires that we weary parents be willing to take the time to confront and challenge them in ways that  helps shape them and enable them to grow and mature.  And it requires something else from us just as important and even more time consuming.  The task of raising emotionally healthy kids requires that we throw into the mix a generous dose of communication that clearly states what our expectations are and what the consequences are that they can count on when they have stepped outside the boundaries we have set for them.

Discussion Questions

  1. When you were growing up did your parents usually take the time to follow your misbehaviors, challenges, and the consequences that occurred with helpful and supportive communication about what had happened and what could be learned?
  2. Looking back, would you say that, if they did take the extra time to help you understand what happened, that it was helpful to your growth and development?
  3. Would you say that as a parent today, you take the time and make the effort to process with your kids when they have misbehaved and had to pay the consequences?
  4. Do you see any positive results so far in your efforts to communicate and to follow up after your kids have misbehaved?
  5. If you do not usually take the time to follow up with constructive and healing communication about what has happened, do you see any negative results?
  6. What are some fresh ideas that could possibly create the opportunity for learning when your kids have disobeyed you?







  1. Discipline-Based Parenting vs. Punishment-Based Parenting - Ed Wimberly - […] Discipline-Based Parenting is consistent and when possible, involves predetermined consequences; Pun… […]

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