All children “misbehave” in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. As adult caregivers we often struggle with questions such as how do we reinforce good behaviour? How do we ensure that the child truly ‘gets’ the rules and curbs the impulse to misbehave over and over again? How do we do all this without damaging a child’s self-esteem? And finally, how do we ensure that we remember that a child is not a mini-adult?
Disciplining a child is the key to effectively reinforcing good behaviour. Discipline walks the middle path between a harsh punishment and helplessly shrugging your shoulders when a child acts up. It empowers both the adult and the child and it’s a path more caregivers and parents should understand and adopt if we want to bring up healthy, contented and balanced children.

So, to discipline and how? If that’s your question, the following articles written by TRC-IECE Students as part of Ilm o Amal’s Punishment vs. Discipline series are a must-read.


We discipline a child when we try to get her to comply with our wishes. In this article Sahar Tanweer explores the healthiest way to discipline a child so that the effects are long-term and constructive for both the adult and the child.

Most parents coerce their children into cooperation by begging or pleading with them. If the child still doesn’t listen, the parents might add an ‘Or else!’ And this is where parents make their first mistake –one that will impact their child’s future.

The word ‘discipline’ is usually used interchangeably with the word ‘strictness’ and it means ‘to make children comply with desired behavior.’ The ultimate goal of discipline is to foster sound judgment and morals, so that the child will develop and maintain it throughout her life. But the big question is, “Does one really need to be strict to enforce discipline?” Disciplining the child is really just teaching the child to choose appropriate behaviors by himself. This may or may not be done using force.

A child can sense love at virtually any age, and if discipline is administered without love, the child knows it. If that happens, you can give them all the timeouts and spankings in the world and it won’t do him any good. The belief behind punishment is that pain must be felt for learning to take place. From a slightly unkind word to a harsh beating, discipline without love is abuse. Spanking, slapping, humiliating, pinching or even withdrawing affection do not instill discipline; and may instead lead to detrimental lifelong psychological effects on the child. Children are extremely fragile and their self-confidence is significantly damaged through repeated harassment. It leaves them feeling helpless and worthless and this feeling lingers on even through their adult life. When a child is smacked for doing something wrong, her immediate reaction is to cry, which focuses more on the pain that she feels emotionally and physically rather than the inappropriate act she may have committed.

Moreover, punishment lowers self esteem. It humiliates, discourages, degrades and embarrasses the child. It also teaches a child to resent authority and forces him to lie and do more of the same things without getting caught. At the end of the day, what are we really teaching our children by punishing them? We are essentially teaching them that violence is an appropriate way to respond to problems.

We must realize that behavior does not occur by magic, nor is it inherited. A well-behaved child is not the result of luck. Children learn behavior through the people they interact with. It is the responsibility of the caregiver to guide the child into behaving appropriately. If we want well-behaved and well-adjusted children we need to understand how our own behavior affects them.

‘Discipline’ is positive, respectful and non-violent (both physically and emotionally). It is supposed to build self-esteem and self-confidence. It fosters love, care and healthy emotional bonds between children and adults. It makes them moral human beings, strengthens their character and facilitates trust. It causes them to think before they act. Most importantly, it teaches them the rules and helps them understand what the consequences of their choices will be, thereby internalising self-discipline and making them responsible for their actions.

Looking back in time, I remember my father and mother being complete opposites when it came to enforcing discipline. Both had appropriate expectations of their children; however their approaches were very different. My father was very strict about discipline, sometimes inflexible and extremely insensitive to my emotions. My mother, on the other hand always explained to us what we were to do and why we were to do it rather than expecting us to blindly follow orders. She believed that self-discipline came from logic and the freedom to learn, within certain limits of course.

When I would not tie my hair, my father would tell me that I looked like a messy beggar and that he would get my head shaved off if I didn’t fix it. His taunts would make me cry. It caused me to fear, resent and rebel against him through most of my growing up years. In contrast, my mother would kindly explain to me why it was better for me to tie up my hair and also why young children should keep their hair short. She told us about the problem of lice, the convenience of cleaning hair and the issue of hair fall when convincing us to keep short hair. She put in that effort to teach me what was right and wrong as compared to my father who thought that I was too young to understand on my own. He did the same thing, but did so taking a shortcut by scolding and threatening to punish me if I did not follow orders. My mother disciplined me through love, affection and trust whereas my father disciplined me through orders and punishment.

After having heart-to-heart chats with my mother, I started doing things because I genuinely thought they were the right things to do rather than being driven by the fear of following orders. A close and loving relationship results in the child wanting to please the parent. The child also ends up in a better frame of mind to accept parents’ rules, to listen to reason and to pay attention to what they have to say. This kind of behavior is impossible to instill through punishment.

Punishment, even when it appears to work can only produce superficial good behavior based on terror and that too only until the child is old enough to resist. It is a short run solution which stops the behavior momentarily, but does not achieve the long-term goal of self-control. In contrast, cooperation based on respect will last, bringing many years of mutual happiness as the child and parents grow older. There is a huge difference between discipline and punishment and not many people seem to realise that. The ones that do are the ones who end up with a well-behaved and loving child.

Sahar Tanweer is a graduate of the TRC-Institute of ECE. She currently teaches 5 year olds at Mrs. Haque’s Nursery.


Many people believe that disciplining a child is the same as punishing him. In this article Sana Lone explains how diametrically different the two are and also how one brings out the best in a child, whilst the other draws out the worst.

It is necessary to encourage positive pro-social behaviour in children, however this cannot be achieved if children don’t understand the boundaries they shouldn’t cross. It is equally necessary that children should be able to apply these boundaries intrinsically and not because they are forced to do so. The thing to consider is should we attempt to achieve this goal by punishing or by disciplining? This is a particularly relevant question given that some people think that punishment is the same as discipline.

So what is discipline? Discipline is meant to draw out positive behaviour through actions and decisions that are assertive and respectful. While disciplining a child the caregiver should state clear-cut consequences of misbehaviour keeping the consequence reasonable and related to the misconduct. Stating the consequences should be done in a respectful manner because while disciplining, one should be firm but not abusive.

If the caregiver talks to the child about certain actions and their repercussions beforehand it helps to avoid confusion and inconsistency. For example: “If you run outside without forming a proper line when the bell rings then all of us will have to come back and make the line again”, or “If you do not pay attention in class then you will not be able to understand the lesson and will have to learn it on your own”, or “If you don’t eat your meal on time then you will get hungry later and will have to wait for the next meal time”. All these examples state the rules and norms in a respectful and consistent manner, while being firm. The consequences are related to the action and are logical.

On the other hand punishment brings out negative behaviour. Its purpose is to hurt and humiliate a child. Punishment causes feelings of resentment, encourages rebellion and aggression and can cause the child to retreat into her shell. A punishment is more about who holds the power rather than about ensuring positive behaviour.

We all know that children can sometimes really exasperate us, but our reactions can make all the difference in shaping their personalities. The situations I mentioned above can turn really ugly for a child if an adult responds in the following ways; “All of you ran out without making a line, now your outdoor time is cancelled and you will keep standing the whole time”, or “Do you have so many important things to think about that you are not bothering to pay attention to what we are doing? Leave this class if you think it is not important”, or “You didn’t finish your food on time now don’t ask me for food when you are hungry because you won’t get it.” The difference in the adult’s reaction to the same situation is stark.

So discipline and punishment are two different things, as discipline is meant to make the child learn from his mistakes and act positively in future, while punishment is meant to make the child suffer for her mistake. Discipline will make the child responsible for his behaviour while punishment will make the adult responsible for controlling the child.

I personally believe that all adults should opt for discipline rather than punishment because it’s our responsibility to encourage intrinsically positive behaviour in the child. When we punish, the focus shifts from encouraging positive behaviour to asserting who is in control.

It is important to discipline a child, because otherwise we risk spoiling him. A child who is not disciplined might never grasp the idea of behaving positively. But one has to keep in mind that there is a fine line between discipline and punishment. If I look back to my childhood there are some practices I would like to continue because they added positively to shaping my personality. One such practice was the repetition of consequences to let the child know that the repercussions are the same no matter how many times they have to be repeated. The consistency of rules and regulations is a practice that should be continued. On other hand there are some practices I would like to write off entirely, such as abusive verbal and physical lashings, painful sitting or standing positions, sending children to stand in corners, and public humiliation of the child by putting a dunce cap on their heads. These practices are one of the most painful memories of my school days.

As an early childhood educator, I intend to take my experiences of childhood as a reminder of how a child can feel when subjected to such “punishments” and do things very differently. In my opinion the most effective approach to disciplining children, without causing any physical or emotional damage is by being sensitive towards their feelings but staying firm when implementing rules. Children look up to adults a lot and adopt their actions and behaviours, so by role modelling an adult can bring a lot of change in children’s behaviour as well.

I suggest that rules and consequences should be discussed with children beforehand. It is also recommended that children themselves come up with the rules as this would enable them to understand them intrinsically. Adults can also write the rules down and hang them in a visible place to serve as a reminder of what the children have decided. It will not only empower children, but will also make them confident about their decisions. Children love stories and role play, so by incorporating disciplinary messages in stories, an adult can send the message without making it boring and formidable.

Adults are entrusted with the crucial task of providing children with a happy, interesting, and carefree childhood, especially since what a person experiences as a child remains in her memory throughout life.

I, as an educator or even as just an adult hope to give children memories that will bring a smile to their faces, warmth in their hearts, and positivity in their attitude.

Sana Lone is a graduate of the TRC-Institute of ECE. She teaches Class 1, at the P.E.C.H.S. Girls’ School.

December 2011