Discipline vs Punishment

There’s a significant difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment gives a negative consequence, but discipline means “to teach.” Punishment is negative; discipline is positive. Punishment focuses on past misdeeds. Discipline focuses on future good deeds. Punishment is often motivated by anger. Discipline is motivated by love. Punishment focuses on justice to balance the scales. Discipline focuses on teaching, to prepare for next time.

Jesus Didn’t Have Kids

Jesus didn’t have any children but he did have disciples. The words “disciple” and “discipline” come from the same root. The goal of parenting is to disciple kids in what it means to live life. This training comes in several ways: modeling, instructing, talking, practicing, and even correcting. The problem is that many parents lose their positive sense of parenting when it comes to correcting their kids, not realizing that correction is a gift.

Joanne Miller, RN, BSN

The reality is that correction is one of the ways that kids learn. So parents need to have an attitude toward correction that keeps discipling in mind. The child who teases relentlessly, or whines for a snack, or bickers with his brother all have one thing in common: a need to change patterns of behavior and a need to change the heart. Some parents only use condemnation or anger to motivate their children. This attitude says, “If I just point out the problem enough times, he’ll eventually change.” Or, “If I give him enough consequences, then the punishment will make him want to change.”

Unfortunately, the negative approach that punishment often takes is counterproductive, weighs heavily on the relationship, and often hinders forward progress. What kids really need is firm correction with a positive focus. That means focusing on what your children should do to replace the negative behavior. It takes more work to discipline instead of punish but the rewards are worth it. Children grow when you balance firmness  with relationship and teach new patterns for healthy relationships.

You may be saying, “Yes, I know discipline is supposed to be positive but how can I be positive when my kids are doing the wrong thing?” One way is to state rules and requests in positive terms. Instead of saying, “Don’t shout,” you might say, “We talk quietly in the store.” Instead of “Stop being rough with the dog,” you might say, “Be gentle.” Instead of complaining about the clothes all over your four-year-old daughter’s room, you could say, “You need to put your clothes in the hamper when you take them off.”

It’s About the Words You Use

Eleven times in the book of Proverbs God tells children to listen to parents. For example, in Proverbs 1:8 he says, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” If kids are supposed to listen to their parents it must mean that parents have something to say. Your words are important. A parent’s words contribute to the internal dialogue in your child’s mind and heart. Don’t abuse the listening ears of your kids by yelling words of condemnation and revenge. Anger at kids may seem justified but is rarely wise. Use your words strategically as tools for heart change and character development.

Carly has four kids under the age of seven. She carried around a clicker on her arm for a day. She clicked down once for every negative statement and up once for every positive statement she made to her kids. Carly was surprised at how many times she made negative comments. So, she went to work to change her approach. She looked for ways to affirm, but she also looked for ways to say negative things more positively. Instead of, “No, we’re not having snack right now,” she said, “Yes, you can have that as a snack at 3 o’clock.” An interesting thing happened that Carly didn’t expect. The attitude around her house began to take on a different atmosphere. Her kids seemed to accept her comments better and relationships seemed to improve.

It may take some work, but clearly stating or restating a directive in positive terms gives your child a clear picture of what you expect and keeps your interaction on a positive note. Give gentle, positive reminders to point your kids in the right direction.

And It’s About the Way You Correct

Of course, many children need more than just a positive way of talking about their weaknesses. They require correction, but the way you correct can mean the difference between resistance and responsiveness from your children.

Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The first part of the verse describes a negative way of relating to children. Exasperate gives the impression of being harsh and causing discouragement. In place of that negative response, fathers are instructed to do something positive, bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. You don’t want to discipline your kids to simply get rid of negative behaviors. The purpose of discipline is to train children and show them a better way to live.

Many of the problems children have are either behavioral habits or character deficiencies. It would be nice if they could have a “burning bush” experience that would change their lives instantly, but it usually doesn’t happen that way. Even Moses had to spend forty years in the desert as a shepherd leading sheep before he was ready to lead God’s people.

Training Is More Than Giving Consequences

Change takes time and many small corrections and reminders can contribute to long-term growth in your child. The word “discipline” used in the Old Testament is translated from the Hebrew word “chanak.” It means “to train.” Training implies guidance toward a particular goal. Every day you’re training your children to become healthy, responsible adults.

It’s easy to get upset when your children need a lot of correction or when they can’t seem to change right away. Some problems take longer to overcome than others. Your response is important. Exasperation can damage the relationship.

When parents understand and embrace the difference between punishment and discipline, it changes the way they relate to their kids. Instead of giving a consequence to balance the scales of justice, they use consequences to teach and to train. Instead of viewing discipline times as annoying detours on the path of life, they see them as opportunities to further develop character in their kids. A small change in perspective can make all the difference.

Children need firmness, direction, limit-setting, instruction, and correction. But don’t forget, they also need a lot of love.

Listen to Dr Turansky’s podcast on Using Jesus’s Teaching Techniques with Your Kids.

  • Angie Swope
    Posted at 20:45h, 21 August Reply

    My two girls have a real problem with name calling. Stupid, idiot, etc.. How do I help them change this behavior. What positive words can I use to make them think about how their words hurt others. What are examples of disciplining vs. punishment for this. Thank you.

    • Amy S Pirnack
      Posted at 02:16h, 22 August Reply

      When my girls use hurtful words toward their siblings, I make them say at least 3 things they appreciate about them instead. Some times my 3-year-old gets going and can’t stop! ?

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 10:06h, 22 August Reply

      Angie, I agree with Amy. Hurtful words can be so damaging. So, we have to train our children to see that they have a responsibility to add and build up instead of tear down. But that takes practice. And that practice becomes the training sessions where kindness can then grow in their hearts.

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 14:19h, 22 August Reply

      I’m training coaches. One of the coaches reported on their family who is dealing with sibling conflict. I thought it was relevant to share it here as well:

      Mom felt like not only was daughter dealing with anger better, Mom was too! This seems to be a great success to me, Mom has new strategies to use with daughter that leaves her feeling more confident and in control. Yay! T charts seem to help so they made another when the challenge of Daughter age 5 calling Daughter age 2 ugly names. They made a list of nice things to call the two year old. I must share a story that made me laugh and laugh (these girls are very angelic and feminine, sweet girls in a mostly calm and very conservative home.) 5 year old came out one morning and sweetly addressed younger sister as “Bumblebee”, as a term of endearment. She said to Mom, “I wanted to call her Devil, but then I remembered our list!” :slightly_smiling_face:

  • Machele
    Posted at 04:58h, 22 August Reply

    Great words of wisdom! I always believe building up a positive way of disciplining our children will open their hearts more to listen and therefore do things better, than to shut down and punish their little minds. Our souls are delicate and only love and positive affirmations can help us build these important relationships. Thank you for your excellent post!

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 11:31h, 28 August Reply

      You’re welcome! Thank you for taking time to post a response. I appreciate it.

  • Beverly Smith
    Posted at 07:03h, 25 August Reply

    I learned something from this site many years ago that worked with my kids. I would ask my kids if they were building their sibling up or tearing them down. Then I would ask what God wanted them to do…build up or tear down. Then they would apologise. Worth a try.

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 11:33h, 28 August Reply

      I like that! Evaluating our words, are they build up words or tear down words? That can help them now and certainly for the future.

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