8 Ways Discipline and Punishment are Not the Same

Discipline is used to teach and guide.

Punishment is used for the purposes of controlling and retribution. Young children do not commit crimes. Their mistakes call for a corrective disciplinary response.

A study on the moral development of children found that children who feared punishment tended to have less guilt, were less willing to accept responsibility, were less resistant to temptation and had fewer internal controls than children who were not punished.

Punishment interferes with the development of internal controls by teaching children that it is someone else’s responsibility to control them and decide what behavior is “bad” and what the consequences will be. Children may then conclude that it is OK to misbehave if they can avoid getting caught or if they are willing to accept the consequences.

Discipline teaches children a particular misbehavior is bad because it violates the social order, thus promoting the development of internal controls.

A 1985 study shows a correlation between corporal punishment and stealing, truancy, aggression, hostility, lying, depression and low self-esteem.

Punishment causes children to focus their attention and anger toward an “unfair” adult rather than on learning to be responsible for their own actions.

Violence perpetuates violence. In a recent landmark study, 41% of parents believed that a child should be spanked for hitting.

Punishment validates fear, pain, intimidation and violence as acceptable methods of resolving conflict. Corporal punishment denies children equal protection under the law – the rules of our society say you should hit children but may not hit another adult. Sweden and five other countries have outlawed spanking children.

Physical punishment can escalate into battering and can result in permanent physical, mental, spiritual or emotional harm. It also confuses the issue of love and violence, teaching that violence can be an expression of love.

Punishment creates a final solution with the adult acting as judge, jury and executioner.

Discipline creates dialogue and communication with the adult acting as teacher.

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  1. james Says Reply

    i think love returns love……you cant expect someone to love the hand that hits them

    • Deborah Godfrey Says

      James–I so wish everyone agreed with your viewpoint! But the sad thing is…the children do love the person at the end of the hand…it’s what the child learns from this punishment that concerns me.

  2. Tai Says Reply

    I completely agree. the problem I face is separating the two and coming up with good consequences or discipline that will teach him something.

  3. Tim Says Reply

    By punishment are you only referring to corporal punishment? I felt like this post was unclear and ended abruptly. As a parent I utilize various forms of time out and taking away privileges with my focus on teaching responsibility and independence. What methods do you consider as punishment vs discipline?

    • Deborah Godfrey Says


      Great question! Punishment is discipline that makes a child “pay” for soemthing they did wrong, think the criminal justice system.

      Discipline teaches or guides children.

      This is the point of this handout, to show the difference between the two.

      I teach discipline tools that guide and teach without being punitive.

      Time-out, when used to make a child “pay” for what they did wrong, is a punishment. Using my version, called self-quieting time, the goal is to teach the child to get control of himself when he is losing control. Teaching, guiding, not punishing.

      Please considering listening to my Free Teleclass on Dealing with Power Struggles tomorrow. In this class I cover ideas to discipline without being punitive.

  4. Guiding Children Without Punishment - Big Blended Family Says Reply

    […] We all love our children. The thought of spanking them if they do wrong can make some people wince. So, how do you guide your children without punishing them? At least when it comes to the small stuff? Granted, punishment is going to be needed in some cases. But there are other ways to do it without having to resort to that. So here are a couple of tips to guide your children without reaching for a wooden spoon. […]

  5. terri Says Reply

    maybe , this will help spell it out? discipline:
    is dicipling, training, teaching, explaining, so on and so forth.
    here is an example: discipline:
    we want to let our children know before, they get hurt. So therefore, we let them know not to touch a heater, or stove, simply because we don’t want to see them get injured”.

    the punishment here, is that, if the child does touch the fire after they have been told not to, obviously they’ve been burned! So therefore the punishment is in fact,that they already by then had been,made aware as to why they weren’t supposed to touch. Being they already had been,explained the consequences,”so therefore the punishment is that they were burned! so obviously we don’t want to spank them…! This is only one example. If a child runs out into the street after you say to them ,do not do that you could get hurt.wouldn’t it be lacking of a parent not to spank that child, think about it? I’ll guarantee that child will not risk ,for fear, by him running out into the street, he now knows the consequences.so therefore ,knowing the consequences, By the time he gets older he’ll realize why he’s not supposed to run in the street ,not because of getting spanked, but because he could get killed!

  6. Lacey Rinehart Says Reply

    Let me start out by saying that I am for spanking my child as a last resort. But… If I do feel the need to spank my child I NEVER do it when I’m mad. I also don’t do it to cause pain. Sometimes it is the best way to get your child’s attention that you mean business. I use just one light pop. Another effective tool that I have found is to clap once loud to get that attention. Like I have said though this is a last resort. One of the most effective ways that I have found to correct muy child consistently is to remove them from the situation. At home this involves him going to his room.. Instead of just sending him to his room alone, I go with him. This isn’t always an easy task and there have been many times where I have to physically carry him to his bed. Once there I did on the bed with him. If he is crying or screaming, I tell him that we are going to sit here until he feels better. Then I wait.. I don’t say anything or let him get up till he’s calmed down. When he is calm, I ask him why he did whatever it was that I didn’t approve of. Then I let him know how his actions made me or whoever he offended feel. I validate his feelings of being upset and tell him different ways that he can handle that situation. After all that I ask for a hug and tell him how much I love him and treasure him that just because he did something wrong doesn’t make him a bad person. I also tell him that we will BOTH work harder to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I hope this helps someone when they get frustrated. Good luck to everyone and keep up the great work because like me, if you are here, then you want to do the best for your child(ren)! 🙂

  7. Fathema qadeer Says Reply

    Ahi Debby
    I am Fathema Qadeer and I read the 8
    Way discipline and punishment.
    I find intererst and I will apply x my child
    To be good, respect , responsible with adult.
    There rules of behavior is very good.
    Thank you you instruct x became a kind,
    Firm parent and huppy parent.
    Thank you

  8. Lessons Learned from Hitting Says Reply

    […] read up on the difference prior to making comments on this post. You can read this it will help. Why Discipline isn’t Punishment. I do hope the parents that consider hugging their child when they hit will come over a little more […]

  9. RT Ford Says Reply

    Discipline is a type of punishment, of which there are three basic levels; Verbal Reprimand, Restriction of Privileges, and Corporeal. A kid gets caught stealing a pencil from Walmart and he’ll probably just a get a ‘talking to’. He gets caught stealing a car and he’s going to jail. He murders someone while stealing their car and he might end up getting executed. Whether he gets a ‘talking to’, ‘jail time’, or ‘the needle’, he’s being disciplined for breaking the law. Some may say that the difference between ‘discipline’ and ‘punishment’ is shown by their word origins. They’ll say that ‘discipline means ‘to teach’ and the root word of punish means ‘pain’ and that’s true, but pain isn’t always physical. Being ‘dressed down’ by a policeman in front of a Walmart manager is pretty painful for a young kid and so is sitting in a locked jail cell. The hard truth, is that there are evil people in the world and sometimes, unfortunately, the first two levels of punishment just aren’t enough.

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  11. Dee Says Reply

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