Fine line between discipline and punishment

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  • By Saber Spouse contributor
  • Saber Spouses Corner
Have you heard of someone known for being a strict parent or a parent who spanks as a punishment? Or, have you ever seen someone disciplining their child in public or on base? 

The difference between discipline and punishment can be confusing. 

Discipline refers to the instruction of rules and a system of teaching. By nurturing children, we prepare them to achieve competence, self-control and caring for others. Discipline provides children with the tools to be successful in life. 

Punishment is to subject someone to pain, confinement, loss or damage, injury, verbal, emotional or physical abuse, maltreatment, beating, etc., for something they have done or think they have done. 

Discipline provides appropriate teaching with a positive and effective approach. Parents can teach children by telling them what they do right or wrong, as well as to help them understand the results of their actions. Giving children clear examples of how to improve for the future and helping children learn self-discipline to control their actions increases self-esteem. This helps children get along with others and gives them the skills to make their own decisions. 

Yelling, name-calling, confining a child for lengthy periods of time and other forms of harsh punishment are not positive examples of discipline. 

Using inappropriate punishment may result in a child responding with unpleasant behavior, such as yelling and swearing. Continued punishment can not only damage the parent-to-child relationship, but it may also affect the way children think about themselves or have a negative, irreversible effect on them in the future. 

If you feel your last nerve might snap, know that you are likely not the only parent feeling this way. Take a deep breath before saying harsh words that can't be unsaid. Pause before you consider spanking a child. Put yourself in an emotional time out to gather your thoughts before disciplining a child. 

If frustration and anger continue to boil, call Family Advocacy at DSN 452-8279 for some effective parenting strategies that can assist you in being a better mom or dad. 

Family Advocacy provides a variety of prevention classes through the New Parent Support Program and the outreach manager. NPSP provides classes such as breastfeeding and Babies 101, and conducts home visits. The outreach manager provides classes such as Common Sense Parenting and Caring for Children through Divorce. Call to make an appointment, and remember information shared in classes will not be documented in medical records. 

Parenting tips for infants and growing children: 
- You are your child's first teacher. Your baby begins to learn from you right away. Help your baby's brain grow: smile, play and laugh with him/her every day. 
- Children learn by example. They learn by watching you. Set a good example: how you act often speaks louder than words. 
- Listen with your full attention when your children talk to you. Look them in the eyes. Listen carefully to their thoughts and feelings. 
- Express all the love you can. Use words of praise as well as lots of hugs and kisses. 

Positive discipline for a child: 
- Don't say "no" too often. Save "no" for when he or she could hurt themselves or someone else. 
- Put him or her in a "timeout." Use the same spot each time. Timeouts give both of you a chance to cool off. Your child can join you when he or she can control themselves. 
- Set up routines and rules, then be consistent. Let your child know you mean what you say. 
- If your child is doing something wrong, show him or her the right way to do it, like: pet the dog, don't pull its tail. 
- If possible, encourage your children to "use their words." Children who express themselves with words will tell you how they feel, not show you. 
- If you are under a lot of stress, your child probably knows it. Ask for help. 

Recognizing child abuse: 
- Parents are late to seek medical attention for a child 
- Any injury that is unexplained, inadequately explained, implausible, or inconsistent with the reason. 
- Eating disturbances (low weight and very little energy) 
- Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home 
- Withdrawn 
- Child cries a lot 

It is Air Force policy that all Air Force active-duty members, civilians and contract employees report all incidents of suspected family maltreatment to include physical, emotional or sexual abuse and neglect. 

(A Saber Spouses Corner contributor from provided this article. The contributor received information for this article from Family Advocacy.)