Punishment and Parental Authority

by Nicholeen Peck


Punishment is a topic that evokes much debate. In the Bible we are told that the Lord loves those whom He chastens, and that enduring chastening brings us closer to God (Hebrews 12). In Webster’s 1828 Dictionary the word chasten means “correct by punishment…to purify from errors or faults.” But, to punish and to purify are not the same thing. Maybe that is why people aren’t sure if they should punish their children or not. The punishment debate has led to a parenting pendulum. Many parents find themselves swinging back and forth from fear-based punishment-oriented parenting, to emotions-based passive parenting. In both of these cases parental authority is damaged and in danger of being disregarded entirely.

Have you noticed that our society is having a hard time accepting parental authority and understanding punishment? When society misses the mark on what makes healthy correction or who people really are to each other in families, then familial and social confusion, often in the form of aggression, are the result.


Punishment or Purify?

I’ve never liked the word punishment because it’s always seemed to suggest revenge to parents. I’ve seen parents emotionally retaliate on their children and break family bonds and call it good punishment. Years ago, when first asked to teach my philosophy of parenting, I made a bold decision to stay away from the term punishment since it was socially misunderstood and often misused. Instead of using the word punishment in my parenting trainings and books, I suggest thinking in terms of correction, nurturing, training, cause and effect, consequences, and teaching.

Punishment mindset leads to thinking of “inflicting pain or suffering” on someone. To purify means something different. To purify means “to grow or become pure or clear.” [Webster’s 1828 Dictionary] Which of these two definitions sounds like the loving role of a parent? If loving parents chasten their children, then what should that look like?

To purify some water a purification agent, like bleach, can simply be added to the water. It’s a calm and peaceful addition that neutralizes the bacteria in the water quickly. To purify a dirty sink a person may need to scrub for a bit and even use a more abrasive cleaner, but in time the sink can become pure from dirt and stain as well. If the water and the sink are consistently maintained and monitored for purity, then they don’t usually need much scrubbing or bleach later on. Keeping ourselves and our children headed toward personal purity is much the same. Proactive effort is always a best practice.


Authority Is Vital

Understanding roper parental authority is a large part of effectively correcting children. When people don’t adequately understand authority, then simple purification/correction becomes difficult due to roles dysfunction. Abuse of parental authority occurs when parents make the mistake of pushing to punishment or ignoring for simulated peace at home instead of creating an environment for calm, understanding teaching/purifying; real, lasting peace.

In modern times the concepts of authority, acting in authority, and healthy chastisement have been grossly misunderstood which has led to the breakdown of families, communities, and nations.

If a person doesn’t understand what authority really is, then they could, in ignorance or pride, end up engaging with others in unauthorized, destructive ways and not even know it. They could also easily change their focus to controlling others and end up initiating revenge/punishment instead of effective correction/purification. So, what does it mean to really have authority then?

Authority isn’t only described as “legal power to control derived from respect,” but Webster also says that it means, “example…testimony, witness, or the person who testifies; weight of character; respectability; dignity.”

It seems that to have authority is to live the truth that you are teaching, to testify of that truth to others, to have “weight of character” and dignity as you govern and teach someone else. In short, to be an authority is to be the example of what is good, right and true. Therefore, if a person is living the true principles that they are teaching, such as love, kindness, respect, compassion, integrity, mercy, justice, humility, calmness, etc, then the person will, with their great character and wisdom, lovingly correct and teach the person that they have authority over.

Sure, sometimes truths and teaching can be hard to accept due to human pride, but if taught with proper, humble authority, which includes character, then the lesson will hit it’s mark even if it isn’t welcomed at first.


Framework That Encourages Self-Government

Parenting often goes wrong and becomes more work for everyone when the parent doesn’t know how to engage in meaningful teaching with their child. Additionally, if a parent’s tone during interactions is negative or emotional, then the child can sometimes miss the spirit of the teaching and thereby miss the the change of heart the parent is hoping for.

This five step self-government framework creates a great environment for calm, principled correction for children and parents and maintains parental authority without leading to emotional retaliation or parental revenge.

  1. Start with you. That is self-government after all. When a lesson needs to be taught, check yourself for calmness first.
  2. Seek to understand. Give the child the benefit of the doubt. They are learning. No need to villainize them in your heart.
  3. Help them understand. Help the child understand the situation clearly by describing what occurred. Do not embellish with emotions or your own perceptions.
  4. Learn a lesson. Tell the child what they should have done to get their desired outcome.
  5. Accept consequences. Children need to be given the opportunity to accept positive and negative consequences and feedback from parents in order to learn cause and effect and to self-motivate. Consequences should be accepted by the child in order for them to learn self-analysis and self government.

Many people, who become emotional in parenting and end up engaging in punishment-oriented revenge parenting, create more parenting problems for themselves when they pull consequences ‘out of thin air’ in an effort to make their child feel remorse.

Pre-teaching what consequences will be used by the family ahead of time is always best. Pre- planned consequences increase predictability for the child and allow the child to know what consequences will be ahead of time so that they can recognize their own choices and plan accordingly. Planning consequences ahead of time decreases anxiety and helps children to take ownership of their choices and behaviors instead of blaming parents for their negative consequences or failures.


Endure It Well

To endure is “to last; to continue in the same state without perishing; to remain; to abide…to support; to bear with patience; to bear without opposition or sinking under pressure.”

Punishment-based revenge parenting mindset doesn’t lead to patience, endurance, or parental strength. When we focus on making our children feel pain instead of teaching and correcting them so that they choose to be purified in heart, then our own hearts need correction. How will they learn to endure life if we don’t? When parents embrace their parental authority and calmly ‘show up’ during a correction, they teach themselves and their child that they all can endure and solve any problem life throws at them.

Start learning self-government by learning these simple tools for calmness.