Discipline or punishment: do your children know the difference?

Posted on · Posted in Communication, Discipline, Gospel, Parenting

There is a huge difference between punishment and discipline. Since children are born wanting to go their own way, every parent engages in some form of correction. That correction will either take the form of punishment or discipline.

Punishment is about retribution, payment for wrong doing. Punishment produces insecurity and fear. Biblical discipline on the other hand produces security and peace. The reason for the difference is that biblical discipline is motivated and controlled by love, the love of Christ. Only the love of Christ can remove punishment. As I John 4:18 says, the perfect love of Christ drives out fear, and replaces it with the blessing of the gospel.

Thus, if your correction is not directly connected to the restorative power of the gospel it will resemble punishment more than discipline. This will produce a response of fear and anger in your children. Listen intently to how your children talk about the impact of your correction. Here are some examples of children who are experiencing punishment instead of loving discipline:

“Mommy, I’m sorry I make you angry.”
“Daddy, I won’t do it again.”
“Why is everybody mad at me?”
“Do you think God is mad at me?”
“He hurt me, so I hit him back.”
“I am sorry that I am not good enough to make you happy.”
“I’ll be good, I promise. Please don’t be mad at me.”
“I try and try and try but I just can’t do what you want me to.”
“I guess I am just not good enough.”
“Mommy, I just can’t do it. I try but I just can’t.”

Have you heard words like these from your children? These statements indicate what your children thinks about the gospel. These kinds of statements show that performance (and not grace) is forming the basis of how your children think about the correction they receive. They know about punishment, but not much about loving, healing, restorative discipline.

Notice the fear and apprehension in the statements above. The loving discipline of the gospel is needed to give hope. The complete, perfect love of Christ given in discipline will drive out the fear of punishment. The gospel must be part of your daily discipline. Here is one picture of what a gospel centered response would look like:

“Sarah, I know you can’t obey by yourself. I know that. But that is why Jesus died on the cross, because we can’t do it ourselves. Remember the Bible says that Jesus died so that we would have new life. You can’t obey in your own strength, but you can obey in Jesus’ strength. Let’s pray right now and ask Jesus to help.”

This is the tender nourishment of the gospel that Ephesians 6:4 compels parents to give to their children. Punishment or discipline: the difference is life changing.

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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.