A popular misconception about discipline is that it is the same as punishment. More times than not, people don't understand there is a difference between the two. It's really important that parents understand this though. Disciplining and child for something looks a lot different from punishment.

Discipline is not rules, regulations, compliance, obedience, or enforcement. It is not rigid, boring, or always doing the same thing. Discipline is not something others do to someone because they are bad or sassy. It is something done for learning purposes. Parents discipline to teach children right from wrong.

Related:How To Teach Kids To Identify Their Anger Signs

Discipline: Teaching & Learning


When a child is born, parents are tasked with raising the child into a functioning part of society. They are to teach them right from wrong, and teach them how to thrive in an ever-changing world full of rules and responsibilities. This is done through discipline.

Parenting involves steering a tiny child who is only focused on their own needs [because they have not learned otherwise] into a responsible person who follows the rules and laws in order to one day be an adult who coexists with other respectful and responsible adults. Parents want what is best for their children, hoping they can achieve all of their hopes and dreams.

Ultimately, that means they must get through school, and eventually out into the workplace. Therefore, when a child or adult has discipline, they have self-control. When parents discipline children, they are either teaching them or correcting their behavior, according to Child Mind.

What Is Punishment?


Punishment defined by Psychology Today is the imposition of a penalty in response to an offense. Someone breaks a law, for example, and is put in jail as punishment. Punishment can take many more forms as well. "An eye for an eye" is a strong human instinct. Decades of evidence, however, show that reciprocating harm as in, a child who trips another child, should also be tripped, is not always the best course of action.

Of course, punishment has its place, but punishment when it comes to children may rely on the ability to rise above basic instincts and judge each situation objectively. Treating each situation fairly and not basing it on personal thoughts and/or feelings.

Discipline Vs. Punishment


Discipline does not impose fear, whereas punishment does. Children listen and respect out of fear when they are punished, not because they actually know the difference. Discipline on the other hand is teaching that difference. It allows children to understand why they should not do what they were doing, and to not repeat it.

Parenting for Brain states punishment invokes the emotional brain to fear a consequence. The effects of that can include, but are not limited to:

  • Mental Disorders
  • Brain Shrinkage
  • Emotion Dysregulation
  • Externalizing Behavior
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Becoming a Bully
  • Poor Academic Performance

Discipline invokes the thinking brain to change behavior. Parents who are consistent, use positive parenting discipline, and model good behavior to their children are helping them change that behavior.

An example of this, with a dog. If a dog continues to use the bathroom in the house and is screamed at and spanked, then dragged outside, they don't actually understand they are supposed to go to the bathroom outside. They just know that going inside results in pain. So, out of fear, they go outside. A dog who is scolded for going in the house and then shown that going potty outside is good by getting rewarded for it, understands they need to go outside to go to the bathroom, they understand that is how it works. This very same thing applies to children. It is called The Classical Conditioning Theory.

Effective Ways To Discipline


These kinds of articles are often met with, "If we don't punish, how else can parents discipline their children and make them behave?" Or even, "I was punished, and I turned out fine, they need to learn." For many parents, punishment is the only thing they know because they were repeatedly punished as a child. Most are affected by that; they just don't realize it.

The ability to watch and learn is unique to humans. Meaning, humans have the ability to watch behaviors and mimic them. According to the American Psychological Association, there is a specific neuron circuit in the brain, called the mirror neuron system. That is what makes this all possible. This neuron system not only allows humans to imitate others' actions but also to understand the intentions of the action. This might explain why it is so important that parents model the behavior they wish their children to have.

  • Parents who want to be respected by their children need to show their children respect.
  • Parents who don't want their children cussing shouldn't cuss either.
  • Parents who want their children to be kind need to be kind.
  • Parents who don't want their child to be a bully, shouldn't come across as one themselves.

This goes on and on. Of course, it doesn't mean that all children will take from their parents in that way, it is a general statement, based on average families. "Do unto others as you would have done to you."

Sources: Child Mind, Psychology Today, Parenting for Brain, The Classical Conditioning Theory, American Psychological Association