Surprising Reasons Why We Need to Discipline Children

It's crucial to discipline children and set foundations for good behavior

Young mother and her daughter.
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If you’ve ever known kids who are not regularly disciplined by their parents, you’ve probably seen some very stark examples of why it’s important to discipline children.

Discipline is not only good for children, it is necessary for their happiness and well-being. Discipline is as vital for healthy child development as nutritious food, physical and cognitive exercises, love, and other basic needs. Without discipline, children lack the tools necessary to navigate relationships and challenges in life such as self-discipline, respect for others, and the ability to cooperate with peers.

Contrary to what some parents may mistakenly believe, children who are not regularly disciplined are not happy. In fact, failure to discipline children often results in kids who are unhappy, angry, and even resentful. To those around him, a child who is not disciplined will be unpleasant company, and a child without discipline may find it difficult to make friends.

For school-age children, in particular, learning how to manage their own behavior and regulate their negative impulses is particularly crucial. As elementary-school-age children head into adolescence and the turbulence of the teenage years, they will be much more likely to successfully navigate challenges and temptations if they have the tools to discipline themselves.

Understanding How Discipline Works

There are many reasons why a parent may not want to discipline a child. Some parents may be reluctant to discipline children because they want to avoid having conflict or because they don’t want to have their child be angry at them. Others may be unable or unwilling to devote time and energy to the task of disciplining children. And still, others may have unpleasant memories of being disciplined when they were children and may want to make things easier on their own kids by relaxing rules and giving them more free rein.

But the fact is, discipline is not about creating conflict with your child or lashing out in anger. Child discipline, when done correctly, is not about trying to control your child but about showing her how to control her own behavior. It is not about punishing a child for doing something wrong but about setting clear parameters and consequences for breaking rules so that she learns how to discipline herself.

A child who has been taught right from wrong and has a solid sense of what is negative and positive behavior will know when she has done something wrong. She will want to behave correctly out of a desire to be a good citizen and a member of her family and society—not because she fears punishment.

Importance of Setting Foundations for Good Behavior

What many parents who are reluctant to discipline children may not understand is how damaging it can be for a child to lack boundaries. Without discipline, children will be deficient in the following important life skills:

  • They will lack self-control.
  • They will not respect their parents or other authority figures.
  • They will not know what is appropriate behavior.
  • They will be willful, selfish, and generally unpleasant company.
  • They will not have social skills that are important for making friends such as empathy, patience, and knowing how to share.
  • They will be more likely to engage in negative behaviors that are harmful and even potentially dangerous for themselves as well as others.
  • They will be unhappy.

Traits of Children Who Have Been Disciplined

On the other hand, children who have been given firm but loving guidance have the following traits and abilities:

  • They have more self-control and are more self-sufficient.
  • They are more responsible and enjoy "being good" and helping others at home, at school and in the world at large.
  • They are more self-confident. They know their opinions and feelings will be heard, and that their parents love them even when they make mistakes.
  • They know that they are accountable for their mistakes or misbehavior, and are more likely to make good choices because they want to, not because they fear punishment.
  • They are pleasant to be around and are more likely to have an easier time making friends.

Of course, how we discipline is as important as whether or not we discipline. Disciplining a child does not mean yelling or losing one’s temper (though being human, all parents can certainly have those moments when we can get angry or frustrated by a child’s bad behavior).

The key to positive child discipline is keeping your cool (and giving yourself a time out if necessary) so that you can communicate with your child calmly about what is and is not acceptable behavior and how he can make better choices and learn from his mistakes.

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