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Discipline versus Punishment

Soooo this is a tricky one. Most of us, as kids, grew up with a punishment model. The days of being made to stand in a corner or spanked for “bad” behaviour are not too far behind us. However, we now realize that discipline and punishment are two different things. Both do seek the same outcome in many ways, which is the desired behaviour of our children. However, one punishes while one teaches and has rationale behind the actions.

Let’s start with a definition….

Punishment is a penalty imposed or inflicted upon a person for some kind of perceived wrongdoing.

In parenting, it is something we do to a child for the purposes of correcting a behaviour and/or teaching a “life lesson”. We tend to believe that we are supposed to punish misbehaviour and that the punishment will teach children to think before they do this behaviour again. However, punishment really only teaches children to resent and fear us. In the end, it increases conflict rather than resolves it. Punishment tends to focus on blame and ‘suffering’. It does not often consider the reasons for the behaviour or look for solutions. Ultimately, this can hurt the relationship we want to have with our child. It is also often what we resort to when we are angry.

Punishment can include many of the following:

  • Threats
  • Yelling
  • Put-downs
  • Taking things away
  • Spanking
  • Withdrawal of love and attention
  • Name calling
  • Shaming


Discipline on the other hand, is a process. 

It is when we, as parents, work with our children to help them develop effective strategies for expressing their emotions and managing their behaviours. The goal of discipline is self-discipline. Through discipline, we help children to be responsible, to cooperate, to problem solve and to grow from their mistakes. If children understand the rationale behind discipline and consequences, they will slowly learn to self regulate their own choices and actions.


Use of discipline rather than punishment does NOT in any way mean that we ignore misbehaviour or let our children run wild with no rules or consequences. Rather, it means striking a balance between firmness and kindness. It means setting and keeping limits that have meaning and purpose to you and your child, following through with love and respect, and giving each other permission to make mistakes.


One idea is to have a tool box of positive discipline techniques and ideas at the ready….A clear idea regarding what an effective discipline would be for certain actions or behaviours.  When you have options, you are more likely to know what to do in the moment, rather than simply reacting.


For more on Positive Discipline, check out Hayley’s article.

 Have any questions or want to tell us some ways you use discipline rather than punishment in your family? Comment below!


5 Responses to “Discipline versus Punishment”

  1. Omkalthoum says:

    In my opinion, in parenting, discipline with wisdom and love, is the first key of having a healthy good human-being. This is a very great article. It prove to me that when you connect and correct together. you might not need to punish.

  2. Sally says:

    This is a great reminder – especially as our kids get older it sometimes becomes more difficult to not want to dish out a “punishment”. Kids sometimes argue like adults and seem to repeat behaviours just to provoke a response …
    Taking the time to refocus/calm down before reacting is key for me. Finding a logical consequence to the behaviour is a tougher thing but communication and connection with my child can be the key to figuring things out together.

  3. Teresa says:

    Great points here – thanks for sharing the differences

  4. Nadia says:

    It is so easy to cross the line between punishment and discipline at times. Great strategies and tips!

  5. victoria says:

    This was a great article explaining the difference between the two. it contained great explanations and practical examples.

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