The Disciplining of Children in a Buddhist Family

Buddhism asserts that individuals have free will and self-determination, which means people create themselves through their choices. The repetition of good choices creates good character, and good character creates a positive destiny. The goal of discipline in a Buddhist family goes beyond the typical goals of stopping a bad action and avoiding future bad actions and instead seeks to create habits of proper thinking and good choices 1.

The Buddhist Way

To a Buddhist, everything is impermanent, insubstantial and unsatisfactory. This is exemplified in the tenet of the Four Noble Truths, which expresses an understanding of suffering: it exists; it is caused by desire; it can end; there is a path to this end. A guiding principle in Buddhism is the Eightfold Path as a way out of this suffering. It is made up of right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration, right thought and right understanding. The first three elements can be categorized as morality, the second three as mindfulness and the last two as wisdom. These three categories provide a structure for discipline.


In Buddhism, the primary principal of morality is karma, which captures the concept that moral actions affect others and one's self. Actions are right if they are made up of “respect, generosity, self-control, honesty, and compassion," according to an article at This entails teaching children how to empathize through questions such as, “How do you think he must feel?” Actions are not right if they are forbidden by the five precepts: lying, stealing, killing, taking intoxicants and sexual misconduct.” This entails teaching children moral reasoning with questions such as, “Do you understand how this action caused harm to someone?” and “Do you understand that you also caused harm to yourself?”


Mindfulness is the act of bringing awareness to each moment of experience. In terms of parenting, this means bringing to each interaction with the child the knowledge of the long-term relationship and ultimate spiritual goals. This allows the parent to move away from habit and emotional reaction into deliberate choice of actions. This also demonstrates for the child how to do the same. To teach a child mindfulness, a parent needs to teach detachment and reflection with questions such as “Why do you think this is wrong?” and “Wasn’t there something inside you that told you it was wrong?”


For Buddhists, wisdom is the development of one’s own truth. Buddha taught that suffering is the result of human ignorance of the true nature of reality, and wisdom is the opposite of this. A parent should teach critical thinking so that children understand why something is wrong in a broader context. Asking questions such as “What if everyone did that?” and “Does the fulfillment of your short-term goal fulfill your long-term goals?” helps children see the impermanence of life and enables them to avoid becoming emotionally invested in short-term outcomes. They can then more easily control their anger and delay gratification.