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Father and son embracing.

Fatherhood and Discipline

Author: Z. Andrew Jatau, LPC
Published Date: Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Traditionally, the father has been portrayed as the disciplinarian in most family structures. Many kids have been raised to fear how their father might react once he learns about their misbehavior. Dads are stereotypically shown to respond with a display of anger and aggression. Though fear can be a motivating factor that can lead to momentary changed behavior, it can also have a lasting negative impact on children and family dynamics.

The word discipline is often used interchangeably with punishment. Punishment is focused on causing pain or distress in response to a negative behavior. The purpose is that the child’s fear or unhappiness will keep them from repeating the behavior down the line. Discipline, on the other hand, is more focused on teaching and guiding in order to correct behavior. With discipline, the consequences are focused on helping the child learn ways to behave differently in the future.

As dads, we learn how to respond to misbehavior based on what we experienced and observed during our upbringing. There is a belief that if we “turned out fine,” then the way we were raised must be the right answer. This is another area where the concept of masculinity plays a role. If men, in general, are supposed to be tough, aggressive, and angry, then those traits transfer to the way we perform the disciplinarian role in the home. Whenever your child does something wrong, everything you’ve been taught about manhood tells you that you need to feel angry and respond aggressively so that your child fears your reaction. Parenting in this manner leads to hurt emotions and exhaustion, mainly because the changed behavior is only temporary, if at all. It also can dramatically change your relationship with your child. In their eyes, you become someone that they should fear, and you no longer become a safe option for them to open up to. Traditionally, this has been acceptable because dads weren’t tasked with being the provider of emotional support, but things are different today and the fatherhood role is evolving. We now know the importance of the father’s role in the emotional development of their kids.

To start changing the way you respond to misbehavior, it can be helpful to remember that the word discipline means “to teach and guide.” In every response to your child’s behavior, you should ask yourself, “How can I make this a teachable moment?” When you discipline, your children recognize that you are teaching them rather than just reacting out of anger. You are allowed to be upset with their actions, and it is still important for kids to learn how their behaviors impact others. But understand that, despite anything you may have been taught, aggression isn’t necessary to get your point across. Your words can be more effective when spoken gently.

To further discuss this topic, I invite you to join us for the Dad Talks virtual discussion on Fatherhood and Discipline scheduled for April 15, 2021, where we will be answering the questions below.

  • What was I taught about discipline and punishment in my upbringing?
  • What role do I play in my home with regard to discipline?
  • What changes can I make in the way I respond to misbehavior?

I look forward to seeing you there!

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. As a visual reminder of the need to celebrate children, support and strengthen families, and create communities where children can be safe from harm and free from abuse and neglect, pinwheel gardens are being planted across Virginia. Look for pinwheel gardens at CHKD sites throughout Hampton Roads.

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About Z. Andrew Jatau, LPC

About Z. Andrew  Jatau, LPC

Z. Andrew is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the founder of Mylemarks, an online company that develops social-emotional resources to use with kids and teens. Through that company, he creates content such as digital downloads, workbooks, and children’s books. He’s an adjunct professor in the Human Services department at Old Dominion University, and serves as the Fatherhood Consultant for CHKD’s Dads in Action program. When he’s not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, cooking, and listening to music.