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