Importance of Discipline for Kids: An Interview with an Expert

Learning about the value of discipline and child development can be tricky – and it can be difficult to figure out the best way to discipline your child. We’ve been talking to Lisa Maley, who is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California, USA.

Lisa has provided therapy, coaching, and training in a variety of settings, and she has extensive experience in mindfulness-based interventions with children, adolescents, and adults. Let’s hear her thoughts on discipline and what she has to say about different strategies for disciplining your child.

What is discipline? What are the main goals of teaching discipline to children?

Child discipline is how we keep our children safe, provide them with socialisation skills, and teach them how to live in our complex world. Child discipline has drastically evolved over the years. Just think of some of the practices used when you were younger – you might not use them as a parent today. While many factors come into account for appropriate child discipline techniques (like your child’s age, immediate safety concerns, cultural considerations, and so on), the main goal of healthy discipline in life is to lay the groundwork for life-long skills your child will use to navigate future relationships and environments.

Discipline in life is very often equated with punishment and control. Parents often seem confused about effective ways to set limits and teach self-control to their children. Do you think this is due to a lack of knowledge about disciplinary methods and techniques?

I do understand the confusion between healthy child discipline and the parent’s desire for control over their child – this can result in a lack of knowledge about how to handle the situation differently. Most adults refer to how parenting situations were handled in their own childhood as a model of how they should interact with their children. The good news is that if you are looking for new parenting models, there are hundreds of resources available with a wealth of knowledge on setting limits and thoughts on disciplinary techniques.

When looking at parenting and discipline enforcement, there appears to be different categorisations and styles  – could you explain the main differences between some of the different categories?

Parent discipline categories (Preventative, Corrective, Inductive, and Power Assertive) have become widely adopted strategies for household and classroom management of child behaviours.

Preventive discipline is when parents determine reasonable expectations according to their child’s developmental abilities and age to make expectations clear and consistent for both the parent and the child. Some examples of preventive discipline are language used in the home, chores, rules regarding television watching, and so on. Preventative discipline strategies also establish clear consequences that will follow a non-desired behaviour.

Corrective discipline is the use of a wide range of strategies when responding to problem behaviours (e.g time out, sitting in a corner, denying television time, and so on). Again, corrective strategies should be used according to your child’s age and developmental abilities. The essential component of corrective discipline is the parent’s engagement in consistently applying consequences .

Inductive discipline helps the child imagine themselves in the position of the person being harmed (e.g. “Ayesha, how do you think it feels when you don’t share your toys with Marisha?”) while power assertion techniques involve physical restraint and corporal punishment.  

In your opinion, is it more effective to punish wrong behaviour or should parents try to prevent it in the first place?

Preparing for your child to engage in unwanted behaviours and rewarding your child’s good behaviours is the best strategy when addressing behaviour modification. Parents will typically find that their child’s undesirable behaviours will be less frequent and intense when parents have engaged in setting clear rules and applying consequences consistently. Children are always going to make mistakes, but as parents we can learn to clearly let our children know what the mistake was and what we expect of them for the next time.

When it comes to disciplinary methods and techniques, there appear to be certain “favourites” such as ‘the count of three’, grounding, the taking away of privileges, and time-outs, as well as doing household chores as a form of punishment. Are they effective or rather counterproductive?

All the strategies above are effective for discipline in life when they take into account your child’s age and developmental abilities, have clearly established consequences, are followed through with consistency, and are delivered by the parent in a non-threatening tone. Often I hear parents report that when they engage in grounding their children they feel grounded themselves because now they have to provide extra supervision. My suggestion is to find disciplinary techniques that will work for you as a parent while providing the needed structure for your children.

What are your thoughts on the importance of discipline for children? Share them with us in the comments below!