Discipline is Better Than Punishment So What's the Difference?

The words punishment and discipline are used all the time, often interchangeably. Is there a difference in this terminology? The terms represent two very distinct beliefs about the job of teaching children.


The child who has done something "wrong" is punished in hopes that the behavior will not be repeated. The belief behind punishment is that pain must be felt for learning to take place. The child may learn to fear getting caught and to avoid repeating the same behavior, if the punishment is severe. For punishment to be effective, it must be severe, and the severity must increase with subsequent infractions.

Punishment is seldom directly related to the "crime". Regardless of the misbehavior, the method of punishment remains the same (for example, parents who spank for everything). The child learns nothing of real-life consequences and grows up without the ability to discipline himself.

Punishment does teach; it teaches children several things.

  • to be afraid of authority
  • to resent authority
  • how to lie
  • how to do things without getting caught

--- because punishment comes from the outside.

Punishment is for hurting, discipline is for training.

True Discipline -- Parents teaching their children things that are worthwhile:

  1. Actions produce consequences.
  2. Choose an action, receive the consequence.
  3. We are all responsible for our actions.
  4. We are all held accountable for our choices.
  5. We must discipline ourselves.

The word discipline means "to teach." A person who is learning is a "disciple." An action is discipline if it creates a positive learning process for the child. When parents give a child consistent limits that are enforced by kind firmness, the child will learn appropriate behaviors.

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For parents with difficult children, this process will take a long time. The key is not to give up or give in.See ADD and Consequences.

Such training requires that behaviors always have their consequence, every time:

  • Appropriate behavior should result in positive consequences.
  • Inappropriate behavior should result in negative consequences.

Note: Using these big words is better than using terms like "good" and "bad". Running is neither good nor bad. Running in the library is inappropriate. This terminology will always make sense.

The Parent's Responsibility

It is the parents' job to see that the every child experiences the consequences of his or her own behavior. When behavior and consequences are directly related, the child learns. Parents can provide the means or the situation for teaching and learning to occur. Parents must allow children to suffer consequences.

Two types of consequences: Natural and Logical

Some consequences are natural and require little intervention on the part of the parent. If a child refuses to eat dinner, the child will be hungry by bedtime. If the parent allows the child to go to bed hungry, the child will have learned something about appropriate eating behavior.

Playing in the street has its natural consequence, which is of course unacceptable. For that reason, some consequences must be arranged. These arranged consequences are called "logical consequences." If the child plays in the street, the child must stay in the house for a certain period of time. If the child throws food at the table, the meal is over for the child. Logical consequences are arranged by parents to teach and train a child and are therefore discipline.

Going without food and being grounded may sound like punishment to many but there is a difference. When children are allowed to suffer the consequences of their own actions, they won't like it. Sometimes physical pain is involved. An empty stomach hurts. Sometimes the pain is emotional. It is no fun to have your bicycle locked up for a week because you left it out.

In each case however, the child experiences the results of his own actions.

Advantages of Logical Consequences

  • The consequences are directly related to a behavior and they make sense.
  • The child understands completely the reason for the consequences and knows how to avoid the consequences in the future.
  • The child is learning about responsibility and will make future choices based on this knowledge.

"Punishment", in contrast to discipline, is intended to inflict pain. Punishment requires an angry parent and produces hostile, rebellious children. Discipline requires a thinking parent and produces cooperative, thinking, responsible children. It's just common sense.

next: Communication: The Relationship Builder

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2008, November 21). Discipline is Better Than Punishment So What's the Difference?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, May 26 from

Last Updated: 2014, July 25

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD