Discipline versus punishment – what is the difference?

Parents often use the words ‘discipline’ and ‘punishment’ interchangeably when they are trying to correct undesirable behaviour in children. The two terms, however, mean very different things and they have different outcomes for children and their parents.

Punishment: Essentially, punishment is about controlling children’s behaviour through power, control and fear. “I better not catch you doing that again!” is a common thing we tell children when we are threatening punishment.

Punishments can be:

Physical: such as spanking, putting a child in a time out or withholding something like food or the internet
Emotional: such as calling a child names (stupid, lazy . .), making them feel small or withholding love and affection from them.
Punitive: not being able to go somewhere or play with friends.

While punishments do seem to work in the short term to stop undesirable behaviour in children, they are problematic in that the lesson for children is to fear the consequences of getting caught. Parents find that punishments do not work in the long term: they have to keep intensifying the punishment to get children to behave appropriately.

Moreover, parents can never be sure whether or not the child will behave when they are not around. In the long term, then, correcting children’s behaviour through punishment can be exhausting for parents and stressful for the entire family.

Thankfully, there is another way to guide and train children towards appropriate behaviour. Let us understand the concept of discipline.

The goal of discipline is to train and teach children so that they can practice self control before engaging in inappropriate behaviour and learn to correct themselves when they do make mistakes.

When parents practice positive discipline at home, children learn to understand that their actions have consequences. They have greater insight into the outcomes of their behaviours and feel a greater sense of control and agency in their lives.

A key difference between punishment and discipline is that while punishment happens after the child has already made a mistake, discipline is proactive in that it trains the child towards appropriate behaviour choices.

The bad news about discipline is that it does take being more proactive on the part of the parent. It also takes more time initially to guide and train children rather than punish them reactively. In the long run, however, it is so much more effective and saves much stress and conflict for the entire family.

Here are the principles to RAISE your children with discipline:

Rules to guide behaviour: Children need to know what is expected of them. When parents take the time to set ground rules in the family, children get a clear idea of what is expected from them.
Highly effective parents not only set ground rules, but they do so after having a conversation with the children and explaining the reasoning behind the rules.
Appropriate behaviour is encouraged: Training children towards desirable behaviour means that we need to catch them doing the right thing and praise them for it rather than only pay attention when they are doing the wrong thing.
Inappropriate behaviour discouraged: There are many ways to discourage undesirable behaviour such as by ignoring it or providing appropriate consequences.
Setting for right learning environment: Training and discipline effectively requires that we set up the home environment for success. If we do not want our three-year-old to eat cookies before dinner, for example, it is a good idea to place them out of sight.
Example of the parent: This is a crucial part of effective parenting. If we want our children to behave in a certain way, the most effective way is to show them through our own behaviour.

So are you ready to RAISE your children with positive discipline? What are one or two rules that you plan to set in your home.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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