Texas Child Discipline and Punishment

This is a follow-up to our popular post about whether it is legal to spank a child in Texas. As pointed out before, whether spanking amounts to a criminal charge (Injury to a Child) or reasonable discipline if often a matter of opinion.


In their natural development, children sometimes challenge or test parental and adult expectations or choose to misbehave for secondary gain. This significant part of their growth process should have consequences. Discipline teaches children right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable behavior.

Parental discipline should help children engage with others by modifying or controlling their conduct. Appropriate discipline is one of the most important parental responsibilities. Consistent and constructive discipline helps children become responsible, successful adults.

The purpose of discipline is to encourage moral, physical, and intellectual development and a sense of responsibility so ultimately as they grow older children do the right thing not because they fear reprisal but because they internalize and adopt parental standards for self-confidence and self-esteem. Parents, of course, should be role models, practice what they would preach. The best way to teach is by example.

Reasonable Child Discipline and Punishment

The terms are not interchangeable, for they have distinctively different meanings. Discipline teaches a child what is acceptable and what is not. It serves as a positively helpful force encouraging what is acceptable behavior. It communicates to the child what parents allow, approve, commend, and encourage.

Punishment is a disciplinary technique to communicate disapproval. It can be physically unpleasant but not physically harmful. The physical aspect intertwines with the psychological impact. Physical punishment does not limited to striking a child. Examples are separation or isolation or denial of favors or privileges. The purpose is to discourage unacceptable behavior by disapproval. Discipline helps children assume responsibility for their behavior as healthy, self-disciplined individuals.

Problems with Violent Punishment

Many parents who use violence as punishment to discourage anti-social behavior ironically experience from their children increased aggression and antisocial behavior. Discipline by severe violence does not to encourage learning. It suppresses unwanted behavior only in the intimidating adult’s presence. It may communicate the parent’s desired for behavior, but it fails to teach what parents expect as preferable, alternate behavior. Violence is most frequent when the parent is emotionally frustrated and in such circumstances may cause unintentional injury or more serious abuse.

What physically violent discipline may do:

  • Increase fear and anxiety
  • Hinder development of empathy for others
  • Arouse anger and resentment in children
  • Incite displaced aggression toward third parties
  • Discourage obedience and provoke rebellion
  • Harm parent-child relationship
  • Cause unintended physical injury
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Promote violence for conflict resolution

How is Punishment Effective?

Punishment (including physical) often stops misbehavior, at the moment. This does not work consistently over time unless the punisher (parent or guardian) presents an acceptable alternative to the unacceptable, punished behavior.

Does Punishment Hurt more than Help?

A child may misinterpret severe punishment as an endorsement of violent aggression and learn only that larger people dominate the smaller. Severely violent punishment can instill humiliation, arouse resentment, and drive displaced aggression. A child may develop callous attitudes toward people in pain. Severe punishment easily begets child abuse as parents raise severity levels in frustrated pursuit of desired results.

Physical Punishment is Not Always Bad

When necessary, punishment may be helpful if used in concert with incentives or rewards for good conduct. Humane punishment in an otherwise nurturing environment teaches children that misbehavior can stress parental patience beyond reasonable tolerance. Punishment can convey parental conviction, defuse tension between parent and child, and relieve parental frustration with misbehavior especially exasperating. Punishment is counter-productive when behavior is beyond a child’s control (i.e. bedwetting when truly accidental and unintentional).

Girl sitting in timeout in Texas

If the goal is to help children learn impulse control and become responsible adults, accompany punishment with explanations of what the child did wrong and what the child can do to avoid punishment in the future. Helping children understand why misbehavior is wrong encourages them to reflect on their conduct and to decide freely whether to modify it.

The parental duty is to provide their child with a clear notion of: what is expected; what is allowable; and what is not acceptable. It is important to remember that there are many methods of disciplining children and that punishment is only one. Equation of discipline with punishment diminishes both parental responsibility and childhood promise.

Spank with a Plan

Unfortunately there is not a real manual on how to raise children. Many of us were spanked as children. Some spanked children grow into well-adjusted adults, and other spanked children aren’t as fortunate. In Texas, you have the right to spank your child for reasonable discipline. Do it for the right reasons and with a plan to use spanking as a teaching tool. Thinking to yourself, “I bet he won’t try that again!” is not a plan. We teach our little ones to “use their words,” and if you want your spanking to work then you need to use your words, too.

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