Love Or Fear: What Works Better When Disciplining A Child

When it comes to disciplining, most parents, along with love, use fear to regulate their child’s behaviour. But, what works best? Read on to find out.

By Arun Sharma  • 8 min read

Love Or Fear: What Works Better When Disciplining A Child

The number of emotions identified by different researchers vary between 4 and 10. All these emotions have a profound effect on the way we conduct ourselves. Some of the things emotions help us do are:

  • Engage in communication
  • Take decisions
  • Keep us alert and help us survive
  • Establish and maintain relationships
  • Adapt to our surroundings and situations
  • Understand others better

As per Indian tradition, the number of emotions are nine and are called Navarasa. They are: Shringara (love/beauty), Hasya (laughter), Karuna (sorrow), Raudra (anger), Veera (heroism/courage), Bhayanaka (terror/fear), Bheebhatsya (disgust), Adbutha (surprise/wonder), and Shantha (peace or tranquility).

Like adults, children also experience a range of emotions. However, love and fear are the two emotions that are mostly used by adults, especially parents, to instil discipline in their child. Let’s look at the effectiveness of both these emotions in disciplining a child.

This is what happens when you use love to instil discipline

With regard to children, discipline is nothing but the desire and the ability to follow a set of rules to present positive behaviour. And, there is no better way than showering our little ones with love to condition their minds to follow rules. This is how love helps a child inculcate positive behaviour.

  • Empathy is one of the crucial components of positive behaviour. Emotional exchange between children and parents plays a critical role in the development of empathy. When children are showered with love, they feel safe and secure, which also makes them more sensitive towards the emotional needs of others.
  • Another important aspect of discipline is the sense of responsibility which, in other words, is the desire to take initiative and accept ownership for a task. Parents who love their children, provide them with the guidance and support needed to do tasks and become accomplished. Such an attitude which helps children learn and become better also inculcates responsibility.
  • A sense of accountability makes children own up their actions, learn from their mistakes and make better choices. But, while children feel bad after making a mistake, they either refuse to, or are reluctant to accept that they were wrong. Validating their feelings and interacting pleasantly with them makes children more amenable to accept their faults and learn from the experience, thus fostering accountability.
  • Respect for authority is one of the most important pillars of discipline. And, one of the best ways of teaching children to be respectful is to treat them with respect. Being polite, not over-reacting to mistakes, showering them with love and modelling respect makes the task of instilling respect for authority in children easier.
  • Self-control gives children the ability to delay gratification and stay committed to what they are doing. However, learning to control impulses is not easy. Most children usually overstep the boundary set for them. Staying calm, being non-critical and reminding the child of the rules in a gentle way encourages children to internalise what is being taught and develop self-control.

This is what happens when you use fear to instil discipline

Children are prone to experiencing fear, but, with the help of their parents, they learn to deal with their fears. This also serves to prepare them to cope with unpleasant and challenging circumstances they may face later in life.

However, many parents use fear to force their child to comply. Let’s see what happens when parents use fear to discipline children.

  • To make children obey rules, some parents use harsh measures to instil fear and elicit compliance. But, what parents fail to understand is that compliance triggered by fear isn’t discipline. The little one isn’t able to internalise the lesson why he isn’t or is supposed to do something, as it was never explained to him by his parents. Most importantly, there is evidence from research to prove that fear changes the structure of the brain.
  • Most authoritarian parents are withdrawn and uninvolved in their child’s upbringing. They set strict rules and use the fear of harsh consequences to make their children obey. As a result of this disconnect and the lack of love in the parent–child relationship, children seldom develop empathy. This limits their ability to understand others and show compassion.
  • Parents who use fear for disciplining usually do not reach out to their children, which makes the children feel lonely and left out. Due to lack of parental support, such children don’t learn how to cope with their feelings or develop necessary life skills. Loneliness also makes children prone to developing depression.
  • When children are made to feel fearful and follow orders, they neither learn to ask questions to clear their doubts nor take responsibility for their actions. Also, harsh disciplinary measures incite feelings of anger and rebellion.
  • Children who are disciplined by fear of either punishment or other measures develop unhealthy means of coping with the pressure. One of the means they adopt is lying, and, with time, lying becomes a habit.

Now that you know how feelings of love and fear can alter the trajectories of development of a child, it is up to you to make your choice. What would you choose to discipline your child—love or fear?

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