Discipline vs. Punishment: Are They the Same?

We have begun a new blog series on effective discipline, a key issue for parents striving to help their children grow and develop in healthy ways. Some parents choose punishment or the threat of punishment as a way to motivate and control a child’s behavior, arguing that punishment can help to stop undesired behavior. However, parenting experts are careful to state that punishment and discipline are two very different concepts and are not interchangeable.

The debate over discipline vs. punishment

Friends

The goals of effective discipline keep relationships healthy and intact.

Consensus among parenting experts is that the goals of effective discipline are:

  • to teach
  • change behavior in a positive way
  • encourage the child to assume appropriate responsibility for his or her behavior while maintaining the emotional health of the child and of the parent-child relationship.

Likewise, most parenting experts state that the goals of punishment are quite different. Typically, punishment uses either physical or emotional pain, causing the child to suffer. Punishment is an attempt to overpower a child, to humiliate, humble, shame or cause to submit…none of these outcomes teach appropriate responsibility or encourage emotional health in the child or parent-child relationship. In fact, it is also possible that overuse of punishment can incur physical or emotional scarring.

Corporal punishment proven least effective

punishment with a belt

It is imperative to realize that some of the consequences of corporal punishment send the exact message that we do not want to send to our children.

Punishment is often defined as corporal punishment. I recognize that many people believe that corporal punishment is a parent’s right and can be part of a parent’s legacies and values. However, when you look at the research, you quickly discover that this is the least effective method of discipline.

It is understandable that parents can become angry and frustrated and sometimes lash out at their kids. All of us who have children can understand those tough moments. But some parents believe that corporal punishment is the most effective way to deal with behavior problems and do so regularly.

It is imperative to realize that some of the consequences of corporal punishment send the  exact message that we do not want to send to our children. Some very interesting conclusions are reached when you scan the parenting education research regarding the consequences of corporal punishment. Research shows that corporal punishment:

  • models aggressive and hurtful means of dealing with conflict
  • degrades and humiliates the child
  • damages the self-esteem and emotional health of the child
  • uses power in a harmful way
  • builds resentment and/or fear in the child
  • discourages the child from owning responsibility for wrong-doing and feeling a healthy degree of guilt
  • deprives the child of an opportunity to apply self-discipline
  • allows the child to externalize the control rather than developing it within themselves (i.e., a child only obeys due to fear, not due to inner conviction that the rule is right or reasonable).

Effective discipline is consequence-oriented

Children_Helping_Washing_Car

It holds the child more accountable for his or her behavior in ways that will promote responsibility and healthy models of dealing with conflict.

Some parents have been convinced that without corporal punishment there is no discipline. But effective discipline done in the right way is far more consequence-oriented. It holds the child more accountable for his or her behavior in ways that will promote responsibility and healthy models of dealing with conflict.

What is important to recognize is that discipline and punishment are very different from each other. As we understand that, we will be better able to be intentional about helping our children not only become more disciplined but ensure their health as they grow through life’s ages and stages.

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Some information taken from Preventing Violence through Effective Discipline, 2006, Diane Wagenhals. Licensed Materials. All rights reserved.

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