Why you should discipline your child instead of punish

Many people use the terms “punishment” and “discipline” interchangeably. However, a punishment is a consequence or penalty for doing something wrong, whereas discipline is much more than that. Discipline, when used as a verb, is defined as making yourself do something regularly and teaching obedience. As a noun it is described as training to ensure proper behavior, order and control, calm controlled behavior, conscious control over lifestyle, and sometimes as a punishment.

Those definitions came straight out of the dictionary, but let’s delve a little deeper than Webster.

What is our motivation? The purpose of a punishment is to penalize the child for doing something wrong. When we teach discipline, we are training them for obedience and self-control. Discipline is more of a lifelong process, whereas a punishment is a one-time act based on an unwanted behavior. Furthermore, studies show that rewards are more effective at managing behaviors than punishments.

The concentration is very different when punishing versus disciplining our children. Punishment is always focused on the past. If you parent with a punishment perspective, you are always waiting for your child to do something wrong before you can react. By contrast, discipline is future minded. For example, we teach our children the discipline of brushing their teeth so they grow up with healthy, beautiful smiles. The aim is to form habits, lifestyles, manners, and behaviors that will benefit them throughout their lives.

The emotions we exhibit between the two can be very different as well. What emotion is communicated to your child when you punish them? Punishment communicates frustration and sometimes anger on the part of the parent, and it produces sadness and sometimes anger on the part of the child. While teaching discipline may not always be a fun experience for either the child or parent, it comes out of a place of love and concern for the child.

When we punish our children excessively, we can produce in them fear, guilt, and shame. Punishment does not give the child the opportunity to right their wrongs. The purpose of punishment is the parent’s anger or frustration. Conversely, discipline is future-focused.  Discipline trains children to do right and act maturely in everything they do, even when parents are not around. If we parent from a punishment perspective, then we must always be around, or snooping, to catch children in the wrong act. If self discipline is taught and encouraged, there is a greater chance that children will make the right choices in the absence of parental supervision.

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About Dr. Raquel Anderson, Bundoo Behavioral Health Specialist

Raquel Anderson has 14 years of experience as a mental health provider in institutional and private practice. Aside from her private practice, she is an advisory board member for the Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County’s Be Merge Initiative and is a contributing author to Raising Boys with ADHD.


  1. I couldn’t agree more!


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