Does Discipline Really Change Behavior?

Many parents rely on outdated discipline techniques—such as imposed punishments and rewards—in an attempt to change their child’s behavior. But does discipline really change how a person acts?

The answer is “no.” Consider these two basic facts of life:

  • Any control of another person is temporary.
  • Attempting to control another person is really an attempt to change that person.
  • Although you can control others, you cannot change anyone but yourself.

As long as parents believe they can change their child, they’ll have a natural tendency to employ force or coercion, especially when the young person doesn’t do what the parent wants. But the fact is that you can’t change others. You can only change yourself.

Certainly, a parent can use discipline to control a young child, as when a parent “grounds” a son or daughter or sends the child to a “timeout” area. But just because the youngster temporarily complies does not mean you have changed him or her. Chances are the child will engage in the disallowed activity or behavior again, especially when you’re not looking. After all, how many times have you disciplined a child for the same offense over and over again? People may be controlled by others, but they are not changed by others.

Please note that I’m not saying you should never exercise authority. There are times when using authority is not only appropriate but necessary. The point is that attempts to control and/or change your child by using authority via outdated discipline techniques (punishments and rewards) is temporary, prompts stress and poor relations, and is the least effective approach for motivating the youngster to want to act responsibly.

A very effective procedure to discipline is through positive motivation through empowerment. The Levels of Development were created for this purpose.