The Difference Between Discipline and Punishment

The concepts of discipline and punishment have changed over time as society has evolved. In decades past, harsh punishment was seen as good and necessary when raising a misbehaving child. Sometimes this punishment was physical, which we now know has serious consequences for a child’s mental health and well-being.

Nowadays, parents and psychologists lean towards using discipline rather than punishment. If you’re like many people, you probably use these words interchangeably and believe they are the same thing. However, these are two very different concepts. Read on to explore the difference between discipline and punishment and how each affects your parenting style and your child’s well-being.

What is Punishment?

Punishment is a consequence or penalty for a perceived offense. It is exerted by an authoritative figure on either a singular person or a group of people. It usually has a negative association, involving either physical or emotional pain or unpleasantness. Furthermore, punishment usually comes out of frustration and anger, weakening the bond between the punisher and the target of the punishment. 

While the ultimate goal of punishment may be to discipline someone, it does not necessarily achieve this. Perhaps the child or target of punishment will avoid the behavior in the future, but it is because they are avoiding pain, not because they are disciplined to behave better.

You’re probably familiar with punishment because it was used prevalently with your generation. Therefore, you are probably familiar with all of these typical examples of punishment:

  • Taking away a child’s items
  • Yelling at the child
  • Sending the child to bed without food
  • Grounding
  • Time outs
  • Making the child do chores or another unpleasant task
  • Corporal punishment

Since punishment is rarely beneficial, it is now frowned upon in society. Numerous studies show that traditional forms of punishment do not enforce discipline and only harm people in the long run. BetterHelp provides more information that discusses the effects of punishment on our children and mental health. For now, let’s move on to the definition of discipline.

What is Discipline?

Discipline is more proactive than punishment. Rather than doling out a consequence to undesired behavior, discipline teaches the child how to behave appropriately. This prevents bad behavior from occurring or repeating.

Discipline involves teaching the child something. Rather than just being told not to behave in a certain way, children learn to behave correctly. Therefore, there is a more positive association with discipline. Proper discipline corrects the undesired behavior while still keeping the bond between the caretaker and the child strong.

Discipline in action may look like punishment in some scenarios. However, there is a difference. Discipline comes from logic and reason, while punishment comes from frustration and anger.

For example, suppose a child watches television instead of working on homework. In that case, they will not be able to go to bed or do any more fun activities for the night until their homework is completed. This is a more logical way of taking something away (e.g., fun activities) as the consequence was a logical progression from the undesired behavior.

Why Discipline Works Better Than Punishment

The problem with punishment is that it does not teach the child how to behave appropriately. Punishment inflicts a consequence on the undesired behavior but does not encourage or teach the child how to behave appropriately. Therefore, the child does not learn anything, except that they will be yelled at or hurt if they behave in a certain way again.

When discipline is enforced, the child learns something that will benefit them in the future. They learn how to act appropriately rather than being punished for misbehaving. Discipline allows for positive reinforcement, which means the child is more likely to retain the good behavior while keeping their confidence.

Unlike punishment, discipline is not about shaming your child. Though they may feel guilty for what they have done, discipline allows your child to try again and correct or reverse the behavior.

Furthermore, while punishment is about control, discipline is not. Instead, discipline teaches the children how to bring control into their own lives by exhibiting proper behavior in the future.

Bottom Line

Parenting has evolved considerably over the past few generations. While punishment was once seen as a necessary aspect of parenting, now we understand how much psychological damage it can cause.

Discipline is a more logical way of eliminating bad behavior in a child. It provides the child with a healthier alternative, and the consequences are more logical. The relationship with the caretaker or parent stays intact, and so does the well-being of the child.

Author Bio: Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.


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