Of all the areas in which boundaries are crucially important, none is more relevant than that of raising children. How we approach boundaries and child rearing will have an enormous impact on the characters of our kids. On how they develop values. On how well they do in school. On the friends they pick. On whom they marry. And how well they do in a career.

We know family is important. Second only to learning how to bond to form strong attachments the most important thing parents can give children is a sense of responsibility knowing what they are responsible for and knowing what they aren’t responsible for knowing how to say no and knowing how to accept no. Responsibility is a gift of enormous value.

Developing boundaries in young children is that proverbial ounce of prevention. If we teach responsibility, limit-setting, and delay of gratification early on the smoother our children’s later years of life will be. The later we start the harder we and they must work.

The work of boundary development in children is the work of learning responsibility. As we teach them the merits and limits of responsibility, we teach them autonomy. We prepare them to take on the task of adulthood. This is called discipline. The Hebrew and Greek words that scholars translate as discipline mean “teaching”. This teaching has both a positive and negative slant.

The positive facets of discipline are proactivity, prevention, and instruction. Positive discipline is sitting someone down to educate and train them in a task. The negative assets of discipline are correction, chastisement, and consequences. Negative discipline is letting children suffer the results of their actions to learn a lesson in responsibility.

Good child-rearing involves both preventative training and practice and correctional consequences. For example, you set a 10:00 pm bedtime for your 14-year-old. “It’s there so that you’ll get enough sleep to be alert in school” you tell her. You just disciplined positively. Then your teen daughter stays up until 11:30 PM. The next day you say “because you did not get to bed on time last night, you may not use the phone today.” You’ve just disciplined negatively.

Why are both the carrot and the whip necessary for good boundary development? Because trial and error help us grow up. We learn maturity by getting information, applying it poorly, making mistakes, learning from our mistakes, and doing better the next time.

Practice is necessary in all areas of life from learning to ski, write an essay, or operate a computer. We need practice in developing a deep love relationship and in learning from our mistakes.

Discipline is an external boundary designed to develop internal boundaries in our children. It provides a structure of safety, so the child has enough structure in his character to not need it. Good discipline always moves the child toward more internal structure and more responsibility.

We need to distinguish between discipline and punishment. Punishment is payment for wrongdoing. Legally it’s paying a penalty for breaking the law. Punishment doesn’t leave a lot of room for practice, however. It’s not a great teacher. Punishment does not leave much room for mistakes.

Discipline however is different. Discipline is not payment for a wrong. It’s a natural law – our actions reap consequences.

Discipline is different from punishment. Discipline and punishment have a different relationship to time. Punishment looks back. It focuses on making payments for wrongs done in the past. The lessons we learned from discipline help us to not make the same mistakes again.

How does that help us? It frees us to make mistakes without fear of judgment, without fear of loss of relationship. The only danger is consequences, not isolation and judgment.

This excerpt comes from the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud.

One of the fundamentals of martial arts is working on discipline and its components: obedience, self-discipline, self-control, and self-awareness. See if martial arts can help you develop your child into the best version of themself for now and in the future. To get started at ATA Martial Arts click this link for a free class.