Discipline and Punishment: What’s the Difference?

The most popular workshop I offer is called Discipline…Steps to Success. And that makes sense. Discipline is a parenting challenge and at the basis of much of what we do when raising our children.

A major challenge is figuring out the difference between discipline and punishment. We tend to use the terms interchangeably and think they are the same thing. Let’s take a look at the difference.

But first:

Parenting Today would like to invite you to take advantage of a few upcoming trips. While I am in your community, let’s see what work we can do together to help the parents in your workplace or neighbourhood. You might be thinking of a public workshop in your region, a parent conference through your schools or maybe Beyond Childcare would be perfect for your workplace.

I’m going to be trying wines and golf in the Okanagan at the end of September so if you are looking for a speaker at that time, I will be in the neighbourhood.

I am pleased that some of you have decided to take advantage of my trip to Ottawa just before National Child Day, which is November 20, 2010. I still have some time around that trip, so if you are looking for a professional development event, Beyond Childcare program, or a speaker for your meeting or conference get in touch.

While I’m in Ontario, I will also have some time in the Toronto area. The schedule for this trip is still flexible so look at your calendar and see what might work for you.

I’ll be in Montreal in early December and would love to work with you then.

And, I’m working on a trip to Central Alberta in the spring. Stay tuned for more information.

Discipline and Punishment: What’s the Difference?

Just minutes before your spouse is due to arrive home you look out the window and there, lying in the middle of the driveway, is Justin’s bike.

You yell at him to put it away quickly before it gets run over. But he’s busy and doesn’t listen so in the interests of time, you run outside and grab it. And it’s just in time because here comes the family car and the bike would have been invisible and so crushed by the car.

This is the third time in a week his bike has been left out on the driveway or on the lawn. You have had it so tell Justin that there will be no TV for him for three days. And you hope that will teach him a lesson.

But it won’t. It won’t because taking away that privilege is punishment and punishment just doesn’t work. Discipline does.

There’s a world of difference between discipline and punishment.

Punishment is about causing pain or discomfort in an effort to change behavior. If we inconvenience the child he will think twice about misbehaving.  And it often works, but only in the short term.  It works as long as it’s uncomfortable enough to dissuade him from repeating the misbehaviour.  So maybe, if the night we take away the TV privileges he misses his favourite program he might think twice about his bike. But probably not. He’ll be thinking it’s unfair and be angry with you who did this to him.

With punishment the motivation is external. He learns that his parents will make his life miserable if he doesn’t follow the rules, but he doesn’t learn why those rules exist. He might learn to be sneaky so he won’t get caught, and that they can misbehave when nobody’s watching. We’ve all heard about teens who throw parties as soon as their parents are away.

Discipline, on the other hand, is not about pain or punishment, nor about revenge or retribution. Discipline is about teaching, guiding and training. When we discipline children we are teaching them the difference between right and wrong. We’re helping them to learn about the consequences of their actions.

So the consequence you choose so that Justin can learn why it’s important to put his bike away needs to teach him directly about that rule. There needs to be a connection between his choice and the outcome. Now, if you do nothing it could be that his bike would get run over or maybe stolen. He would learn but can you live with that?

It makes more sense to remove his bike privileges. Let him know that riding a bike includes the responsibility for caring for it. That means that when he comes home he needs to take his bike around the back of the house and lock it so it will be safe. When he chooses to ignore that rule by dropping his bike on the driveway or lawn, he loses the right to drive it. So he cannot have access to it for 24 hours and then he can try again.

The point is that punishment is something we, the parents, lay on in the hopes they will learn from discomfort. Discipline is a teaching tool so that the consequence is directly related to the misbehavior.

In this case, Justin soon learns that if he wants to have access to his bike there are rules and responsibilities associated with this right.

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