Discipline or Punishment - Article by Barrington Brennen
Punishment or Discipline
By Barrington H. Brennen, August 2005, September 5, 2017, January 2021



Question: Dear Sir: What can we really do to help our children be more disciplined and to grow up as non-violent citizens?

Answer: Dear Reader: Would you believe that the key answer to solving the problem of violence is to start training our children from the minute they are conceived—in the womb. Research indicates that the unborn child can hear what is being said outside the womb from as early as eighteen weeks after conception. She may not understand what is being said; however, she can distinguish different voices, feelings, and moods. We have the Biblical record of John the Baptist when he was only six months in his mother’s womb "leaping for joy." The documentary, "Silent Scream," video clips of actual abortions show unborn infants pulling away from suctions tubes and screaming for "help" during the deadly ordeal. Unborn infants can feel and hear. We also know that the attitude of the mother during pregnancy, the relationship with the father of the child, and the environment in which the mother lives (whether her home is filled with hostility or whether it is peaceful) can also influence the psychological and physical development of the unborn fetus.

How then do we start to help our mothers and fathers so that they can provide a more wholesome environment for the development of their children? This brings me to a most profound statement— We should start training our children at least 20 years before they are born. Research now tells us that we develop our major character traits during the first five years of our lives. If this is true, then while we are training our little children, we are also training our grandchildren. The habits and traditions we will instill during those early years will stay with the children for the rest of their lives, and will influence how those children will bring up their own children.

Many of our teenagers today lack discipline and have parents who do not care much about them. Thus, creating a deadly formula for violence. It is then critical for churches, schools, civic organizations, social clubs, and concerned groups, to provide pre-parenting classes for teenagers and effective parenting classes for young married couples. More and more people are being convinced that to reduce the risk of marital discord and breakup, pre-marriage education is necessary. In the same vein we must be convinced that to reduce the risk of raising undisciplined violent children, we must teach children and adults how to parent. I call this pre-parenting education.


Discipline is not synonymous with punishment. It is obvious that the word discipline appears when we talk about violence. Violence is a result of a lack of discipline. What is discipline? Discipline is helping children develop self-control. It is encouraging children, guiding them, helping them feel good about themselves, and teaching them how to think for themselves. Note that I said "children" and not adults. This is because the true meaning of discipline includes three important points:

  1. Discipline is a PROCESS not just single events. This process begins from the birth of the child (after it would have started with the adult years before). Its is helping the children to make intelligent choices each step of the way. It is understanding the developmental stages of children and knowing what to expect from them during each stage.
  2. Discipline is an ENVIRONMENT not just circumstances. This is providing intelligent guidelines and limits that help to make children feel loved and lovable, secure and free. It is having homes where children are valued and are treated as intelligent beings and not as mute dogs.
  3. Discipline is a LIFESTYLE not just a one-shot deal or fashion. I like the word lifestyle because it suggests that everything we do or think is a part of the entire process of discipline. This includes the words we speak, the time we eat, what we eat, what we watch on television, how we respond to disappointments, how we handle differences among ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about others, how we treat others, how we control anger, etc.

Many parents think of discipline as physical punishment.  Physical punishment is one of the methods parents use to inflict pain in order to correct a specific wrong doing.  Note that physical punishment does not develop character.    It only seems to works after parents have understood the process of discipline and provide the environment of discipline for their children during the first five to ten years of their lives. If a young child is allowed to go to sleep any time he wishes, eat at anytime, eat anything, and watch whatever he wants to on television, when the child becomes a teenager and chooses to do terrible things it is very difficult or nearly impossible for parents to correct wrong doing. I hear many parents of teenagers complain how they do not know what to do with their son or daughter. "They are so rebellious," these parents say. I have discovered that most of these parents did not understand the process of discipline and did not create the environment of discipline when their children were young. Thus they allowed their children to do what they wanted at anytime, then brutally punished them for every little inconsistency along the way. This is a formula for violence.

I've noticed that teachers or parents who use physical punishment in public (and in private) or in front of the class, are usually demonstrating a misuse of power and control.  Sometimes, the instigators of the physical punishment think they are being embarrassed by the "rude" student/child, so they have to show "who is in charge."  Hence, it is really a power struggle between the parent/teacher and the child.   

Teachers and parents must be reminded that they are by default, due to the age difference and authority, already in control of the child/student.   Therefore, do not abandon your "control" by beating/physically punishing the child/student.

Discipline is helping children develop self-government. Learning self-government and personal responsibility means acquiring what psychologists call an internal locus of control. This means that the source of control is internal--the individual acts out of a sense of personal value and commitment. External locus of control mean that the individual depends on external rewards and punishments to behave as the authority or parent wishes. When the external locus of control is not present--that is the external force--then the person acts impulsively. Children who are taught or gradually acquire an internal locus of control-- or reasoning skills--will avoid misbehavior because they believe it is wrong. They will try to act consistently with a set of standards they have learned from their parents and have made their own.

I hope you are beginning to understand when that discipline is a process, an environment, and thus a lifestyle. May you begin a new world of discipline in your home and school today.

Send your questions or comments to Barrington H. Brennen, question@soencouragement.org  or call 242-327 1980 or snail mail: P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas.   Barrington Brennen is a marriage a counseling psychologist and marriage and family therapist.

First   Rules Part 1    Rule Part  2   Rule Part  3  Rule Part 4


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