http://revach.net/article.php?id=2042

Section:  Avodah   Category: Chanoch L'Naar
One of the Most Complicated Decisions a Parent Must Make

A basic rule of Chinuch is that “The punishment must fit the crime.”  But why?  If discipline is a deterrent than over punishing may be a good idea if the kid just doesn’t get it.  Why do we punish in the first place?  Is it more than just a deterrent?  We know we cannot control our children’s behavior in the long run.  The fact is that each child has their own “Bechira” and they make decisions for themselves.  No parent can force a child to grow up a certain way.  

So what is Chinuch all about?  The most core aspect of Chinuch is to teach the child what is right and what is wrong.  More than that is hard to do.  But this task is far more complex than it sounds.  Children are very perceptive and their judgment about good and evil depends on many factors.  It is not only about what you say but also about what you do.  How you react to things you see and hear and what simply gets no reaction from you at all.  All these subtle factors are computed and calculated in child’s sub consciousness and will determine how he views the world and how decides on what course he himself should take anytime he is faced with a decision.

The severity of the punishment that a child receives for his actions helps him determine how serious the offending crime really is.  If we were to come down hard on both capital and petty crimes, the deterrent may be there in the short run but the end result will be a mixed up child who doesn’t understand anything about good and bad.  A child that is sent to his room for both not putting his shoes away and for talking with Chutzpah has not been raised very well and it will show.  Without any perspective on various scales of evil he will commit many heinous offenses with the same impunity as minor infractions.

This may explain the reason why Chazal all weighed in with their opinion as to why exactly Nadav and Avihu were punished with death.  Their death was a lesson to Klal Yisroel for generations to come.  Chazal felt it is critical to share with us exactly which crime was so terrible that it deserved the death penalty.  Was it serving Hashem while intoxicated, or was it paskening a Halacha in front of their rebbe, or maybe it was doing avodah without being told?  Maybe it was because they never got married?  Which one of these is worse than the other in the grand scheme of things?

To discipline is both an art and science wrapped in one.  There are so many factors to consider, many of which we don’t really have answers about.  What really happened?  Did he really do what we think he did? What was the child thinking?  Did he mean to do evil?  Does he understand what he did?  How we discipline is not a matter to be taken lightly.  Knee jerk punishments may get children off their parent’s head.  But will it help parents raise children with straight and clear heads?