Discipline is helping a child solve a problem.  Punishment is making a child suffer for having a problem.

During a recent counseling session with a new couple, I gathered some basic background information. Both partners described a childhood that was rife with neglect and abuse.  As they described their difficult upbringing, the husband made a somewhat unusual observation, reflecting, “I think I benefitted, in a weird way, from the bad treatment.  I believe that it motivated me to try to be a better father than mine was. I think that the abuse served me, ironically.”

I was impressed by the young man’s willingness to see some benefit from a painful upbringing, but I suggested another way of viewing his dysfunctional background. Essentially, the young father saw some personal growth as flowing from an absence of parental love and affection.

I had to challenge the young man’s belief about the role of parental love.  I suggested that there is no such thing as too much love for a child, but there is a separate “ingredient” in the repertoire of parental methods.  To illustrate the point, I likened the parents’ role to the operation of a car.  As we all understand, there are three components of the vehicle that the driver manages: the steering wheel, the brake and the gas pedal. 

Let’s consider the accelerator as parental love and affection.  Structure and discipline are the “brakes” that a good, conscientious, parent must apply judiciously.  Those two resources enable the parent to “steer” their child in the proper developmental direction.  But imagine a car that only had a gas pedal, no brake.  It would proceed hazardously and with no control or direction.  Conversely, a sedan with only a brake goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing.  A good convertible or SUV has both.

Is there such a thing as too much love (too much gas) for a child?  I think not.  On the other hand, a loving parent wisely applies the “brakes” to a young person when needed.  Failure to do so is not a manifestation of love.  Rather, it is a sign of parental negligence or weakness. 

Love and discipline are not contradictory concepts; they are complimentary in nature.  Love with no structure can result in spoiled,  narcissistic adults.  Structure without love produces only emptiness,  resentment and self-doubt which can last long after our formative years. 

Behind every child who believes in herself is a parent who believed first.  M. Jacobson

                                                Respond to your children with love in:
                                                their worst moments
                                               their broken moments
                                               their angry moments
                                               their selfish moments…
                                              …it is in their most unlovable human moments that they need to feel loved.”
-L.R. Knost