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Punishment vs Discipline…Is there a difference?

We were recently asked: “Why is our once sweet child being so defiant when we punish him?” Our November newsletter focused on the “why” of his behavior and included steps to redirect the misbehavior. This month, let’s discuss Punishment vs. Discipline. We will further expand on the use of punishment and offer alternatives.

Often the words punishment and discipline are used interchangeably, but there is a definite difference. Understanding this has been an eye-opening experience for many parents who have attended our programs. When they changed their discipline and communication approach, they saw a change in their child’s behavior.

Let’s begin with the word punishment which means to subject another person to pain, loss or embarrassment for an offense, fault or transgression.

Picture this: After you’ve worked long hours and put your best efforts into a project, you proudly present your work to your boss. The response you hear is; “This is useless! How can we show our client this stuff?! What is WRONG with you?”

Now picture yourself in the role of the boss and your child is on the receiving end of the message. Is this the way you want to gain your child’s cooperation?

There is an alternative approach…

“Discipline” comes from the Latin word “disciplina” which means to teach. Think of your favorite teacher, the person who treated you respectfully, guided your learning process with positive feedback and gentle correction. Isn’t that the feeling you want to establish with your own child? When an adult teaches instead of punishes to gain cooperation, our children:

  • Feel safe to make mistakes and learn from them

  • Gain confidence in making decisions

  • Have a higher self-esteem

  • Build a relationship with you that is based on respect

Going back to the opening question: What if your child won’t cooperate? What if you’ve asked nicely and you’re still getting attitude or resistance? We recommend the following:

To get a child to stop doing something, state it in an “either/or” format. “Either you stop dawdling or we’ll be late. That means you’ll end up with less time to play with your friends at the park. It’s your choice. If you want to motivate them to do something, try the “when/then” approach. “When you have your toys picked up,then we can start reading your book.”

Key to this technique: Each of these alternatives has a logical consequence tied to it. If the price they pay (less play time) or the benefit they gain (reading their favorite book with you) is logically tied to the behavior, kids will make the connection easier and will be more likely to cooperate.

Added bonus: It also takes you out of the equation. You’ve stated what will happen (the consequence) if they continue to behave in a particular way (their choice), from this point your child is making an informed decision and will experience a consequence based on their choice, not yours.

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