Discipline vs. punishment

Have you ever stopped to consider the difference between discipline and punishment? The two terms are the same only in that parents use them when their children misbehave. But they are very different in their intent.

Here are their definitions (according to dictionary.com):

Discipline: verb, to bring a state of order and obedience by training and control; to punish or penalize in order to train and control.

Punish: verb, to subject to pain, loss, confinement, etc., as a penalty for some offense, transgression or fault, to inflict a penalty.

Do you notice the difference between the two?

To teach vs. inflict harm
The intent of punishment is to inflict pain for an offense. The intent of discipline is to train and bring about order. The way I see it, by punishing our children, we inflict pain (physical or emotional) with no greater goal. By disciplining our children, our greater goal is to teach them.

Childwise principle #10: “If learning didn’t take place, correction didn’t happen,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 133).

No matter how you correct your child’s misbehavior, make sure you are teaching him why the behavior is unacceptable.

Internal vs. external motivation
Aside from not providing a teachable lesson, punishment is less desirable than discipline because it provides an external motivation. Which would you prefer? A child who does the right thing because his parents say so or a child who does the right thing because he knows in his heart that it is right?

When we discipline our children, our goal is to help develop their conscience. In the early years, your child will do the right thing because of your influence. But once you hit the early preschool years, your child should have an internal motivation to do what’s right.

Examples
Here are some real-world examples of the difference between discipline and punishment.

Punishment: Your child throws food on the floor, so you put him in a timeout.

Discipline: Your child throws food on the floor, so you make him clean it up to teach him that it takes work to keep the house clean.

Punishment: Your child refuses to do his homework, so you lecture him about it and send him to bed without dinner.

Discipline: Your child refuses to do his homework, so you let the reality of a failing grade teach the lesson of why homework is important.

Punishment: Your child hits you in a fit of rage, so you yell and hit back.

Discipline: Your child hits you in a fit of rage, so you send him to his room. If he can’t be nice to anyone, he should be alone and rejoin the family when his anger is under control.

Punishment: Your child abuses his computer time, so you ground him for three months.

Discipline: Your child abuses his computer time, so you take away his computer privileges until he shows you that he’s responsible enough to use the computer wisely. The onus is on the child to prove that he’s responsible.

Punishment: Your child leaves his bike on the lawn for the third time in a week, so you send him to his room.

Discipline: Your child leaves his bike on the lawn for the third time in a week, so you take away his bike privileges until he shows you he can take care of his things.

As you can see in these examples, there is a lesson involved in every form of discipline. Be sure that every time you correct your child’s behavior, you are teaching through discipline.

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  1. […] with the child sitting near you and his siblings. As I mentioned in a previous post, we want to discipline, not punish our children. The goal of discipline is to teach, not make them suffer for the sake of suffering. […]

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