Updated: Jul 12
What do you think about when you hear the word discipline? Do words like spanking, yelling, hitting, and time-outs come to mind? If so, you’re not alone. When many people think of discipline they usually think of harsh discipline, where the parent may use corporal punishment or other harmful means to discipline their child. This is an old-school, more parent-centred approach that is no longer promoted in the field of psychology. At the other end of the spectrum, the use of a no-discipline strategy is not encouraged either. No discipline has a tendency to set no boundaries for the child and usually results in increasing the difficulty the child will have in regulating and managing their misbehaviours. This makes discipline a necessary concept to have your child become self-reliant, a contributing member of society, and have overall better relationships with peers and future romantic partners.
Psychology promotes parenting practices that align with the authoritative parenting style. This style consists of three aspects: nurturance, respect, and discipline (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). Parents who use this parenting style have high demandingness (defined as setting clear standards/boundaries of desirable behaviours and being assertive), and high responsiveness (defined as being sensitive to your child’s emotional and developmental needs such as listening to the child and having a “give-and-take” relationship with them) (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). Parenting styles will be discussed more in depth in a later blog post. This definition of discipline, the four components of discipline, and sensitive discipline all align with authoritative parenting.
What is Discipline and its four components?
Discipline is the use of consequences to assist children in learning rules and values. It must contain reasoning, power assertion, and willing compliance from the child (Dadds & Tully, 2019). The purpose of discipline is to have parents teach each child through effective and fair discipline strategies in order for the child to learn the desirable behaviours. One thing parents need to remember is that discipline must not be emotionally driven (Dadds & Tully, 2019). If parents are emotionally driven when they discipline, they are more likely to partake in harsher discipline than intended. You want to lead by example so when a misbehaviour occurs, rembember you want to model the behaviour you want your child to exhibit (Dadds & Tully, 2019).
Discipline must support the child’s autonomy (Dadds & Tully, 2019). This means that parents/caregivers must allow the child freedom to negotiate what they want and let their wishes/desires be heard and if possible met. Parents need to take the perspective of the child and understand the reasoning for their child’s misbehaviour. Parents need to ask themselves why is my child misbehaving/acting out? When parents take the perspective of their child they can understand the reasoning behind their child’s misbehaviour. This helps parents determine how to appropriately discipline them on the misbehaviour. When the child feels understood they are more likely to accept the disciplinary strategies and to adopt these rules and routines as their own i.e. internalize them.
When disciplining your child it is recommended that these four components be met (Dadds et al, 2019):
Fair and meaningful - Discipline strategies must be consistent as this will allow the child to know what to expect when being disciplined. It has to be appropriate to the child’s age/misbehaviour. For example, discipline will look and be different for a three year old toddler versus a ten year old child.
Effective - Any discipline strategies should redirect the misbehaviours and encourage appropriate behaviours.
Secure - you want to ensure that the discipline strategy will not degrade the attachment bond built. It needs to be clear that the intent of the discipline be seen as guidance to help the child in the future which should strengthen the parent-child bond. The child must feel safe and secure when being disciplined. When this occurs the child is more likely to internalize the discipline.
Promote self-regulation - Any discipline should allow the child to check in on their behaviours and prevent similar future misbehaviours from occurring.
Sensitive discipline is promoted in psychology as it contains all four of these components.
Harsh discipline vs. Sensitive discipline
Harsh Discipline is the use of corporal punishment (physical abuse), removing of needs (water and food), verbal abuse (name calling), and psychological abuse (bribery or ignoring the child) (Jansen et al., 2012). While this discipline strategy may be effective immediately, it carries the risk of having negative long-term consequences like your child having poorer self-regulation, as well as increased risk of rebellious/deliquent behaviour and emotional problems (Jansen et al., 2012).
Please note that harsh discipline might be necessary in the context of protecting children and looking out for their safety i.e. yelling at the child.
Sensitive discipline is setting firm limits and contains parental sensitivity, which is the ability to perceive and interpret your child’s tells/behaviours and to provide prompt and adequate responses to these tells/behaviours (Kolijn et al., 2021). This discipline strategy emphasizes the use of communication to express feelings/desires in order to prevent escalation of conflict. The parents are to promote, guide, and model the proper behaviour they want their child to exhibit. This means you follow the rules you enforce in your household. Parents should express and demonstrate the rules/social norms/values they want their child to exhibit (Kolijn et al., 2021). This discipline strategy has been known to elicit fewer problem behaviours in children and leads children to comply more and interanlize the social values/norms over time (Kolijn et al., 2021).
Next time, we will discuss what natural and logical consequences of misbehaviours as well as some ideas for effective discipline strategies to use with your child. The Dadds & Tully (2019) paper will be discussed more in depth regarding time outs and how to use them effectively.
Dadds, M.R., & Tully, L.A. (2019). What is it to discipline a child: What should it be? A reanalysis of time-out from the perspective of child mental health, attachment, and trauma. American Psychologist Association. 74(7), 794-808. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000449
Darling, N., & Steinberg, L. (1993). Parenting style as context: An integrative model. Psychological Bulletin, 113(3), 487–496. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.113.3.487
Jansen, P.W., Raat, H., Mackenbach, J.P., Hofman, A., Vaddoe, V.W.V., Bakersman-Kranenberg, M.J., Van IJzendoorn, M.H., Verhulst, F.C., & Henning, T. (2012) Early Determinants of Maternal and Paternal Harsh Discipline: The Generation R Study. Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Science, 61(2), 253-270. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2011.00691.x
Kolijn, L., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J., Van Ijzendoorn, M.H., Huffmeijer, R., & Van den Bulk, B.G. (2021). Does maternal inhibitory control mediate effects of a parenting intervention on maternal sensitive discipline? Evidence from a randomized-controlled trial. Infant Mental Health Journal. 42(6), 749-766. https://doi.org/10.1002/imhj.21946