The discipline children receive for misbehavior impacts the likelihood of whether or not that behavior will occur again. Discipline also impacts children’s self-esteem, the relationship with their caregiver, and their view of the world around them. Understanding the difference between a punishment and a consequence can help you establish effective discipline strategies.
The Danger of Punishments
Punishments are not logical or natural. They tend to make kids feel bad. For example, if a child doesn’t do his homework, a punishment may include having to go to bed three hours early. Going to bed early and not doing his homework are not related. In essence, “the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.” A punishment like this isn’t going to lead to your child getting his homework done and instead, is likely to create relationship problems between you and your child.
There's a difference between discipline and punishment.Punishments often defeat the purpose of discipline. Discipline should be used as a way to teach children how to manage their behaviors and learn from mistakes. When punishment is used as a discipline technique, it tends to make children focus on their anger toward their parents, rather than their own behaviors. This is counter-productive as it can result in children thinking “My mom is mean” rather than “I made a mistake.” Punishments are often given out of anger, may be overly exaggerated, and may be very critical of the child.
The Benefits of Consequences
Positive and negative consequences teach children to how to make healthy decisions on their own. They allow for an opportunity to learn from mistakes and to take responsibility for their own behaviors. Consequences can either be natural or logical and they provide an opportunity for learning.
Natural consequences are the consequences that are a direct result of a child’s behaviors. For example, if a child jumps in mud puddles, his shoes will be wet. Or if a child refuses to eat all of his lunch, he will be hungry in time for dinner. Allowing for natural consequences allows children to learn first-hand about what results from their behaviors.
Natural consequences can be offered when the consequence is safe. For example, you wouldn’t want to allow a child to touch a hot stove and receive the natural consequence of a serious burned. However, allowing your child to experience some discomfort, such as feeling cold when he refuses to wear a jacket on a cool day, may be helpful to his learning.
It’s also important to examine your child’s development to make sure natural consequences are an age appropriate discipline. Natural consequences work best for older children who can understand the direct link between their behaviors and the consequences. In order to benefit, they need to have the ability to use that information when making future decisions.
Logical consequences are those consequences that are a direct result from the child’s behavior. For example, if your child rides his bike outside of the yard, then a logical consequence would mean that he loses his bicycle privileges for the rest of the night. Instead of grounding him from video games or something unrelated to the misbehavior, a logical consequence is directly linked.
Logical consequences help children learn from their mistakes. For example, the child who loses his bike for riding it outside the yard will likely remember what caused him to lose his bicycle riding privilege. In contrast, if a child loses his video game time for riding his bike out of the yard, a few hours later he may not even recall why he received the consequence.
There are several things parents can do to make logical consequences more effective. For example, offer the consequence immediately following the misbehavior when possible. For example, if a child hits his brother at breakfast, telling him he will have an early bedtime isn’t likely to be effective. Also, make sure there is a clear time table for how long a privilege is lost. If you tell a child he’s lost his video game privileges indefinitely, he’ll lose motivation to earn it back. Usually 24 hours is an effective time frame.