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The Difference Between Punishment and Discipline

Learn how to manage misbehaviors with discipline


Angry boy scolded by his mother
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When it comes to parenting children, there’s a big difference between punishment and discipline. When children make mistakes, they rely on parental intervention to help guide and teach them. However, the various approaches parents take to intervene can make a big difference in a child’s ability to learn from mistakes.

What is Punishment?

Punishment is an intervention that instills a penalty for a child’s offense. It often results from a parent’s feelings of frustration and desperation. It usually gives kids the message that “I’m bad.” Often the focus is on the parent trying desperately to maintain control and trying to prove to the child that “I’m in charge whether you like it or not.”

Authoritarian parents often offer punishments to children. When children ask why they can’t do something, they are often told, “Because I said so.” These sorts of answers often give children the message that their opinions don’t matter and that they lack the ability to make any decisions on their own.

An example of a punishment would include things such as spanking. If a child hits his brother and then receives a spanking from his parent, he learns, “I’m bad. Mom hits me.” Other examples of punishment include things such as a teenager getting grounded indefinitely or when a parent throws away a child’s toys because he didn’t clean his room.

The Problems with Punishments

There are several problems with punishments. One problem is that children are not taught how to behave. For example, if a child hits his brother and then receives a spanking, he is not taught what to do the next time he feels angry with his brother.

Punishment also teaches kids that they are not able to be in control of themselves. They often learn that their parents must manage their behaviors and feelings because they are not able to do it on their own. They also tend to lack the ability to make good decisions because their parents have always made their decisions for them.

When children receive frequent punishments, they may grow up to be hostile and aggressive. When they receive a punishment, they often focus on how angry they are at their parents rather than thinking about how they can learn from their mistake. Parents who provide punishments are also inconsistent much of the time which can be quite anxiety-provoking for kids.

What is Discipline?

Discipline focuses on teaching children new skills, such as how to manage their behaviors, solve problems, and deal with their feelings. Discipline focuses on training kids to learn from their mistakes and find better ways to solve problems in the future.

Discipline techniques include things such as time out. For example, if a child becomes angry and throws a toy, he is given a time out where he can calm down. The goal of time out is to teach children how to calm themselves down when they are upset so that in the future they can seek time out on their own before they throw a toy.

Discipline takes an authoritative approach where kids learn alternatives to their behaviors. When they are given negative consequences, the consequences make sense and are time sensitive. For example, a child who does not eat all of his dinner, is not allowed to have desert but is told how he can get desert the next night if wants it.

Discipline may include some proactive ways to promote new skills such as by using praise or reward systems. Discipline also helps foster a positive relationship between children and parents and kids are often given positive attention on a regular basis to help reduce attention seeking behaviors.

There are plenty of effective discipline strategies that parents can use to teach kids how to become responsible adults. Age appropriate discipline strategies help kids feel secure in their relationships with others and promotes healthy self-esteem. Discipline is a loving way to show kids your desire to keep them safe, teach them to make healthy choices for themselves, and gain independence.

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