Talking about parenting: Defining discipline versus punishment

Published 6:53 am Wednesday, February 14, 2018

By Chris Kovatch

Discipline and punishment always seem to be popular topics in our home. With five kids in the house, we are almost guaranteed to have someone misbehaving in some form or fashion. What I quickly learned when we grew from one child to two is that all children are not created equal. What works for my oldest as a deterrent will not work for my youngest. I also quickly realized that traditional repercussions aren’t always the way to go.

It is important to understand the difference between discipline and punishment. Often they are used synonymously but the methods they represent are polar opposites. While they both focus on behavior, the path which they take to accomplish their goal is much different.

Discipline focuses on acceptable behaviors and also ensures a child understands the difference between “right and wrong”. When a desired behavior is observed it is recognized. Desired behaviors are also exhibited by parents and other family members to set an example for the child.

Punishment on the other hand focuses on previous behaviors. Punishment can range from spanking to removal of a specific privilege to traditional ‘grounding’. Punishment is a repercussion and isn’t necessarily effective by itself. It only addresses the aftermath and doesn’t take a proactive stance.

As a parent I have learned that discipline is the most effective. Setting expectations around what is acceptable and what is not is paramount. These guidelines help a child develop their own sense of right and wrong. However, when they do veer outside white lines repercussions are imperative. The key is ensuring they are age appropriate and fit the ‘crime’. A five minute time out for my five year old is way more effective than removing a privilege for a week. His attention span isn’t that long and quite often he forgets what he did in the first place. However, removing access to video games for my 14 year old is equated as the end of the world in his eyes.

Whatever the case I am seen as a mean parent and you know what? I am okay with that. I want my kids to grow up and go to college and be successful, but even more than that I want them to grow up to be good people. I want them to be responsible and should they fail know that they are responsible for their actions. Too often today when a child fails blame is placed on everyone but the child. Developing a sense of ownership of one’s actions is something that we need to see more of in our society.