Punishment vs Discipline

Punishment and discipline. Why these two words are not interchangeable.

Often when we think of disciplining our children, the word punishment comes to mind. But more and more, both experts and parents are seeing that discipline and punishment do not go hand and hand. Rather, it’s possible for children to learn from their mistakes and change their behavior without punishment. Barbara Coloroso, parent educator and author of “Kids Are Worth It” says punishment “arouses resentment, and it doesn’t teach a kid a whole lot of anything that’s constructive. Discipline on the other hand, if you go back to the Latin roots, means to give life to a child’s learning.” She adds that disciplining or limit setting does four things that punishment does not; “it shows them what they did wrong, gives them ownership of the problem, gives them ways to solve it, and most importantly, it does what punishment will never do. It leaves the child’s dignity intact”.

While punishing does little to teach children about their mistakes, the same holds true for lecturing. Most of us probably remember being lectured when we were young, and if we are honest, would readily admit that we dreaded it. Funny thing is, now that we’re parents many of us find ourselves falling into the same pattern with our own children. Coloroso calls these little ‘I-told-you-so’ talks mini-lectures and says they are a waste of time because they provide kids with information they already have such as, “if you’d had put your coat on you wouldn’t be cold, if you hadn’t hit your brother you wouldn’t be in your room. If you’d have studied you wouldn’t have failed”. Coloroso adds that this is “like my husband saying ‘if you hadn’t put the car in reverse we’d have had two cars’. I don’t need that kind of information anymore than a kid needs to hear ‘if you had put your coat on you wouldn’t be cold’.”

In the case of a child outside without a coat on, for example, Coloroso says instead of punishing or lecturing, “I’d walk out there and I say ‘hey what’s the matter?’ He says he’s freezing and wants his coat, and I say ‘good thinking’.”

Coloroso says by avoiding punishment and lecturing, “the kid decides how to solve a problem he’s created.”


Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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