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What Is the Difference Between Discipline and Punishment?

Discipline teaches a child how to act. Discipline should make sense to a child. It should have something to do with what he has done wrong. Discipline helps a child feel good about himself. It gives him the chance to correct his mistakes. It puts him in charge of his actions.

Punishment only tells a child that she is bad. It does not tell a child what she should do instead. So punishment may not make sense to the child. Punishment usually has nothing to do with what the child did wrong.

Here are some examples of what a child can do wrong. Some types of punishment and discipline are given. Can you see how they are different?

Example 1: A three-year-old throws his crayons on the floor.

Punishment: Tell him he is a bad boy and slap his fingers.

Discipline: Tell him to pick up the crayons. Explain that they could get broken or mark up the floor. Put them out of the child's reach until the next day.

Example 2: A two-year-old empties a wastebasket.

Punishment: Spank him and send him to his room.

Discipline: Explain he may not play with the wastebasket. Give him something he may dump and fill.

What Kind of Discipline is Right for My Child's Age?

  1. Small babies do not need discipline. They do not act badly on purpose. They are not trying to make you angry or control you by crying. Babies who cry usually need something. They might be hungry, wet, tired, in pain, or need to be held. A baby cannot be spoiled for the first six months. Babies who are picked up when they cry learn that they ar safe and can depend on the world. Usually they will cry less later on. As soon as they can talk, they will use words to tell you what they need.
  2. Crawlers often get into things. Remember to babyproof the house. Use distraction when the child does something you do not like. Use "stop" and "don't" and tell the child the rules. give the child the chance to explore safely in at least one room in the house.
  3. Walkers can reach higher things. They are learning to climb. Babyproof the house. Use distraction as a discipline. Tell them the rules. Start using short time-out periods. Use a chair in the same room for the time-out spot.
  4. Runners, jumpers, and climbers are talking more now. You can explain things to them. Also, listen to what they have to say. Use rewards whenever you can. Claps, extra hugs, and praise are very good to use. Use time-out if necessary. You could put them in a room away from you for their time-out spot.

    Source: Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, "A Child in Your Life"