Discipline vs. Punishment

Posted by Brenda Yoho

Have you considered the difference between discipline and punishment? What do they mean to you when you hear them? Have you received discipline and punishment?

You are in your car driving to work. You notice the traffic has caused you to be a little behind on your schedule. Maybe it is because you woke up a little later than usual, and the line at Starbucks was longer than expected.

You see the signs for the speed limit, but you are running late, so you continue to drive, and then flashing lights appear behind you. The reality of the police car pulling you over for speeding and trying to get to work on time by speeding is happening. A ticket is issued, and you are officially late for work. Is this discipline or punishment?

A fight breaks out in the hallway. A girl is on the floor, and several are hitting her while others capture the fight on their cell phones. A staff member breaks up the fight. The police are called to the school. These are middle school aged children, but they are being charged with assault. The school district is also suspending the students involved with the assault. Is this discipline or punishment?

I have provided a couple of examples for your thoughts. But let me give you additional clarification on definitions of discipline and punishment. As I worked in education, I looked at these words and the actions I took very seriously.

When misbehavior occurs, it is due to choices individuals make. Poor choices, I have always stated, provide opportunities for teaching and learning (discipline). The goal when students make a poor choice is not just to stop the behavior but to help the student learn how and why. Children need to see and learn how to grow in making better choices on their own. If this process is skipped, then the behaviors will be repeated.

Punishment is about stopping the behavior and is a reaction to the situation. These can be emotionally motivated and seek immediate pain, and social and emotional discomfort to gain compliance.

Both discipline and punishment seek accountability, responsibility, and consequences for actions. It is how we approach these situations which have long-term effects on the children we serve. The results can be negative or positive in the guidance of their development.

We need to talk more about this subject and how it impacts:

  • Mental Health
  • Core Values
  • Self-Regulation
  • Responsibility
  • Accountability
  • Feeling Good
  • Feeling Safe
  • Problem Solving
  • Self-Awareness

Think about your practices with discipline and punishments. What are the purposes and outcomes of your actions?

"I only have 2 rules!"
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