Creative Child

Discipline Without Punishment

by Rebecca Eanes


A key difference in punishment and logical consequences is the tone of delivery. By empathizing with the child’s experience and coming from a place of love and regard, the child understands the cause and effect of her behavior. She may still be upset with the parent, but it is clear that the consequence is related to the event or behavior and is intended to help the child grow, not suffer.

I should point out here that some proponents of positive discipline believe that logical consequences are just punishments in disguise, and that the focus should be on solutions. I agree that the focus should always be on finding a solution, yet I feel like this is simply a matter of semantics. Having the child work for the money to buy a bike could be seen as a solution or as a logical consequence. The outcome is the same.

It sounds more positive to call it a solution, however.

If the logical consequence settled upon does not solve the problem, then it isn’t the best course to take. I suppose one could argue that if a child breaks a rule about screen time, a logical consequence would be to take away all screen time for a month, but does this provide a solution?

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Does this teach the child how to regulate her screen time or follow the rules? Or does it simply make the child suffer for her rule-breaking?

Therein lies the difference. I think a more logical consequence would be to sit down together and make a screen time chart or set of rules agreed upon by both parent and child and see that this is adhered to.

Why Not Punishment?

I think the bigger question is why punishment?

What does the child learn by sitting in a corner or being sent to his room? What does she learn by not being able to use a phone or visit friends? It certainly sends a clear message of what is not acceptable by the parent but comes at a steep price – resentment. This resentment puts the child’s focus on the behavior of the parent, not on her own behavior.

Punishment also fails to teach the child what to do.

If a child is punished for hitting when angry but not taught appropriate ways to deal with anger, she is missing needed information and skills. In the absence of punishment (when the parent isn’t looking) the misbehavior will return.

Finally, punishment actually decreases accountability.

Having now “paid his dues,” the child feels absolved. The parent took on the responsibility by punishing him, and once he has served his time in his room or this grounding is lifted, he is free from the responsibility of his actions. I feel it is much more important for him to learn how to handle himself and right his wrongs than to spend time without an iPhone.

Absence of punishment is not an absence of discipline, and in fact, I believe it requires more discipline.

Children of non-punitive parents are not simply let go, able to get away with all behavior, but are given knowledge and skills needed to successfully govern their own behavior and held responsible for the actions and for repairing or correcting any resulting problems. This teaches accountability and problem-solving, which strengthens their executive functions making them more successful in adulthood.

Life’s messes are not fixed with a nose in a corner. Teach, don’t punish.

Related Article:  The Messages Behind Discipline

Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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