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Comparing the Differences Between Discipline and Punishment in Parenting

Physical Discipline, Physical Punishment

Parents these days seem to have an obscured view of what discipline really is. The terms “discipline” and “punishment” can often be very confusing. They are both applied to a child after he has acted wrongly or displayed improper behavior. This is the only similarity. Because of the variety of differences between the two, parents get caught up between them and often are not sure how or when to correct and train their child. The main difference between discipline and punishment is that discipline is the instilling of good behavior in children whilst punishment is the infliction of a penalty for a misdeed.

Discipline is the correction and training to act in accordance with the rules (“Discipline”). The importance of this definition is the word “and.” Many people think that discipline means “training” or “correction,” but the complete definition is both. This is because when a parent disciplines his child, he is telling the child what the child has done wrong. After he says this, the parent tells the child what the child should have done but did not do. The reason for both of these is so the child will be trained better for the future. He will understand what the difference between right and wrong is, and he will choose the right thing if he is taught properly. As stated by Bruno Bettelheim, “A child can be expected to behave well only if his parents live by the values they teach” (51). Without proper knowledge and understanding of what is expected of him, the child cannot know what is right or wrong, and therefore does what he wants, no matter if it actually is right or wrong.

If a parent teaches a child in this way, the child has a much higher chance of doing what is expected of him the first time he is given a choice. The focal point of disciplining a child is the future correct acts (Ingram). Thus, a parent’s good training teaches the child to become more mature and stable in his behavior. In fact, D.H. Sailor says that discipline “is guiding and teaching, requires understanding, time and patience, teaches problem solving and builds a positive self-image, and develops long-term self-control and cooperation.” In order to make discipline work properly, a parent needs to remember to train his child in love.

While disciplining his child, a parent’s attitude is most important. Since the purpose of disciplining is to train for correction and maturity, says Chip Ingram, the parent should be concerned about what the child learns that will characterize his right or wrong behavior in the future. The purpose of disciplining from the parent’s point of view needs to be out of love for his child.

Punishment, on the other hand, is a penalty inflicted for an offense. Usually punishment is portrayed as physical punishment, although it can also be verbal or emotional. Instead of the focus being on the correct future acts of the child, the focal point is the past misdeeds of the child (Ingram). This punishment is aimed more toward the child himself instead of the concern for what the child does. If the child does not know what he is doing wrong and the parent punishes him, then the child cannot learn from the experience and make his future behavior better. This is why physical punishment is not a good way of raising children.

The confusing part about using physical consequences to wrong behaviors by the child is that there is a major difference between physical punishment and physical discipline. The Bible says, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (NASB, Prov. 13.24). The writer of this verse is conveying that discipline does imply using physical means, but in a loving way. So many parents think that physical discipline is child abuse. It is not abuse if it is done in a Biblical way. In this Proverbs passage and others, the Bible encourages spanking. If a parent spanks his child harshly and with an angry and targeted intent, it would be considered abuse. The Bible prohibits physical abuse (Ingram). If a parent spanks his child with love as the intent, then the approach to spanking the child is different.

Another problem with punishment is that it teaches the child bad habits. Children believe that if his parent is hitting him, then it must be okay to hit anyone else (Hunt). Rather, if a parent lovingly spanks his child at the appropriate times, then the child does not infer this type of reasoning.

Knowing the difference between discipline and punishment, parents should have the correct view of how to discipline their child with the right intentions. If their intentions to correct a child are with love, then it is discipline. This type of training encourages the child to fix their behavior for future situations and consequently become more mature. If parents’ intentions are demonstrated through frustration and anger towards the child, then it would be called punishment. All in all, discipline differs from punishment in that it trains the child to discern better between right and wrong, and approaching the child with the pretention to hurt him is punishment.

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