Why Fear and Compliance is not the Same as Respect when Disciplining Children

Our society is obsessed with children respecting adults. As children get older, our focus on this respect for elders increases. We tolerate what we deem as ‘disrespectful behaviour’ from toddlers and preschoolers, but once children are of school age our tolerance wanes. We take their backchat, rudeness and refusal to listen or do what we tell them to do as an indication that they are lacking in respect for us and we meet it with punishments, chastisements and consequences. We are wrong.

Firstly, this apparent disrespect is actually an indication of immature brain development. It isn’t pre-meditated. It isn’t personal. It’s a young person struggling with big emotions and a lack of impulse control. We are the adult here, we need to meet their outbursts with graciousness and understanding, however triggered we may feel by them. Staying calm and mature doesn’t mean we are permissive, or ‘too soft’. It means we are well-informed, conscious of the underlying cause of the outbursts and the impact our response will have. 

Children need the same parenting whatever age they are, 2 or 20 (and anything in between). They don’t need “a firmer hand” as they get older (in fact they almost need more understanding and support!). They need us to be understanding and empathic. They need us to teach by being a great role model. They need us to stay calm and stay connected; these are the groundworks that will help children to learn best.
Punishment, shaming, most artificially imposed consequences and the like don’t earn respect from children, they create the very opposite of respect. They fracture the relationship and create fear of retribution. At best they cause short-lived compliance. They are poor educators and ineffective forms of discipline, whether you have a toddler or a teen. Never confuse fear and compliance with respect – they couldn’t be more different.

If this article has piqued your interest in gentle discipline, check out my new discipline book.  It is released under the title ‘The Gentle Discipline Book‘ in the UK and under the title ‘Gentle Discipline‘ in the USA and Canada. The book covers common tricky behaviours from babyhood right the way through to the teen years and how to cope with them in a gentle and effective way


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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