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Effectively guiding children

Discipline vs Punishment

Written by Cindie Silmon, LCMFT – Mental Health Specialist

Parenting can be very hard. Our hopes for our children are that they grow up to be happy, productive adults.  Many parents struggle with finding the right solution for addressing their child’s misbehavior. As children grow they are naturally going to make mistakes and will challenge rules. As parents, we need to guide our children in teaching them the morals, values and expectations we have regarding their behavior.

So, what is the difference between discipline and punishment? Discipline is used to teach and guide children in making appropriate choices, problem solving, appropriately expressing their feelings, while maintaining respect for the child. Punishment focuses more on punitive actions and the child “getting in trouble” for their misbehavior. If our goal is to teach children to make appropriate choices on their own, then teaching and guiding them through discipline is the best way to give them additional tools to use in the future. 

Some effective discipline strategies include:

1) State your expectations for behavior focusing on what behaviors you want to see.  (“Walk in school and use your quiet voice,” rather than “Don’t run and stop yelling.”)

2) Model the behavior you want to see in your child.  Children learn by example.

3) Offer choices. Children need to learn to make decisions. You can help them by offering choices as appropriate. When you offer choices, make sure both options meet your approval. (“What do you want to do first, put on your PJ’s or brush your teeth?”)

4) Be consistent with your expectations. For children to succeed, they need to be able to learn how to respond appropriately in different situations.  If expectations change, they will have difficulty learning the desired behavior.

5) Follow through with consequences. Children learn quickly when parents do not follow through. Lack of follow through encourages the negative behavior to continue.  (If you tell your child, “eat your food, then you can have dessert” and do not follow through with this requirement, your child will realize if they whine, scream, and beg enough that they will get their way eventually.)

6) Help children identify and manage their emotions. Maintaining your own ability to be calm, help your child realize how they are feeling while being firm with the limit set. (“You feel mad right now because you can’t play with the doll,  but your sister had the doll first.”)

7) Focus on your child’s efforts at having good behavior.  Often, we tell children “good job” based on something they have done. We need to provide positive feedback on their effort as well.  By focusing on the effort, it allows children to feel good about themselves and it encourages them to continue trying. (If a child normally gets frustrated putting a puzzle together, instead of waiting until the puzzle is complete to say “good job,” focus on their efforts.  “Wow, that puzzle is really hard and you keep trying,” or “You keep figuring out different ways to put that together.”)


These are some basic strategies to begin your journey to a positive effective way to help your children grow into healthy happy adults. 


Positive Discipline Books/Resources:

  • Positive Discipline – by Jane Nelson
  • 1-2-3 Magic – by Thomas Phelan
  • Parenting with Love and Logic – by Foster Cline and Jim Fay