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Discipline vs Punishment

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Many people think Discipline and Punishment are the same thing but they are quite different. Discipline is a Latin based word which means to instruct or teach. Punishment means to impose a penalty as retribution for an offense. When your child disobeys and you use punishment, you temporarily fix the problem, but you don’t teach your child how to manage his own behavior. Hundreds of research projects have demonstrated that punishment is not the most effective way to teach kids how to have positive behavior, instead it uses fear as a motivator.

When your child disobeys and you use discipline you can problem solve with your child on what he can do next time to make a better choice. You replace punishment with information and opportunities to learn from mistakes. You are teaching your child to manage his own behavior.

Here are some examples of ways you can replace punishment with discipline:

  1. Your child spills his juice. Punitive parents would yell, spank, or take the juice away with anger, but you grab a cloth for you and one for your child and say, “Let’s clean it up together.”

  2. Your toddler hits you. Punitive parents hit back, yell, or threaten. You take your toddler’s hand and gently pat yourself while saying, “Be gentle. This is how you can be gentle.”

  3. Your child is playing roughly with a toy. Punitive parents use emotional blackmail, saying things like, “You’re such a baby. You’re selfish, You’re so clumsy,” hoping that the insults will encourage their children to do better. But you take the toy, put it in a safe place and say, “Let me know when you’re ready to try again and play more gently.” If your child says, “I’m ready” and continues playing roughly, put the toy away and say, “I’ll let you know when I’m ready to try again.”

One example from my personal life happened the other night. My 2-year-old kept getting out of bed. I put him back in bed without explanation a few times but he still kept getting out of bed. Instead of using punitive practices, I calmly explained why he needed to go to bed. I said that he needed to go to sleep so that we could go see his grandparents in the morning, but that he needed to sleep before we could go. He stayed in bed after that.

As a parent using positive discipline you don’t ignore problems. You are actively involved in helping your child learn how to handle situations more appropriately while remaining calm, friendly, and respectful to your child and yourself.

Replacing punishment with discipline allows you to create a deeper relationship with your child. By discussing inappropriate behavior and problem solving on how to correct that behavior, you set the precedent that your child is capable of controlling his own behavior but you are there for him to come to as needed.

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