When it comes to bringing up and caring for children, there is perhaps no other issue that incites as much heated debate and elicits as much intense opinion as Discipline and Punishment. Should one punish a child? Or should one discipline the child? What is the difference? And what are the effects of each of these approaches? These are just some of the rudimentary, but emotionally charged questions that this debate throws up.
In a world where some deem sparing the rod akin to spoiling the child, while those at the other end of the spectrum think saying ‘no’ to a child is anathema, we at TRC believe that it is time to clear our heads and discuss the issue again. And so for November and December 2011, we will be carrying two articles (instead of our usual one) on Discipline vs. Punishment. Written by TRC-IECE Students these articles will benefit anybody who is raising children or is involved in any other way with them and often feels stuck about the healthiest approach to take when guiding children.


The words punishment and discipline are often used interchangeably, yet they couldn’t be more different. In this article, Yasmeen Shahzad delves into the basic differences between the two approaches to guiding a child and explains why one works and the other doesn’t.

Guiding a child is a very challenging process of establishing and maintaining responsible, productive and cooperative behaviour in her. Parents and caretakers must devote a great deal of time, and persistent effort over many years to help children become considerate and self-disciplined members of society.

Many times we see or hear the two words punishment and discipline used together. They immediately tell us that something wrong has been done by somebody and it is usually a child. Some give in to their anger and punish the child by virtue of being adults, whereas others worry about discipline by asking themselves:

• How do I get children to clean up after themselves?

• How can I keep toddlers from biting and pulling hair?

• Am I being too strict?

Every child is unique and has different needs. What is appropriate for one may not be appropriate for another. So how one guide a child? Does one use punishment or discipline? To answer this we first have to explore what exactly punishment and discipline are.


Punishment is a response to behaviours that are deemed unacceptable by an individual or a group. Punishment causes emotional or physical pain and builds fear, because many still believe that children had to be afraid to learn and cooperate.


Discipline is the technique of helping a child to learn self-control and to behave in a socially acceptable way. It usually focuses on positive reinforcement and building the child’s self esteem. Discipline is not a spontaneous action, but a long process of acquiring appropriate behaviour.

My opinion of the two

Punishment and discipline were considered the same as they put a stop to unwanted behavior. They are in fact quite different; one is proactive whereas the other is reactive. Real discipline is not based on force, but grows from understanding, mutual respect and tolerance. It helps children learn to control their actions so that they can act according to their ideas of what is right or wrong, and not because they fear punishment.

If a child is punished for a certain action, he might not repeat it, but it will be out of fear of the punishment rather than from the realisation that his behaviour was unacceptable. Let us take the example of a child who is being shouted at for talking loudly. What is the child learning? That a voice louder than his (the adult’s) will achieve the desired results. Now what will he do in the future? The same technique will be used by him to pressurise and bully those younger or weaker than him. On the other hand, disciplining by being a role model and by explaining to the child that talking loudly is against proper social etiquette, will not only result in the achievement of the desired behaviour, but will also give confidence to the child.

It is important for parents and caregivers to understand that as a result of harsh treatment, even if children do agree to comply with their wishes the effect is not going to be long lasting. Children need practice at being good and we need to be honest with ourselves and decide whether our goal is to teach positive behaviour, or to show who is in power, or to get revenge. I would sum it all up by quoting Albert Einstein, “If people are good only because they fear punishment and hope for rewards, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”


Miller D. F. (2004) Positive Child Guidance, 4e, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning.

Pawel, J. J. Discipline vs. Punishment, Parent’s Toolshop Consulting Ltd.


Yasmeen Shahzad is a graduate of the TRC-Institute of ECE. She has been teaching students of Class 4 at the P.E.C.H.S. Girls’ School for the last 4 years.


A child can often exasperate adult caregivers to the point where they feel that they have no other option but to punish. If you have ever felt like that, stop, breathe and read this article in which Umul Binin lays out clear and effective steps you can use to discipline a child without resorting to damaging penalties.

When guiding children towards positive behaviour and learning, parents want to promote a healthy attitude that encourages children to think before they act as well as to use self-control when needed. Raising a child is definitely not easy. Many times the adult caregivers feel like exploding if the child does something undesirable. The adult may instinctively want to react with some form of punishment as a way to make the child behave. This is definitely not the ideal solution to the problem as its effects are temporary at best and fail to achieve the long-term goal of inculcating a sense of self-control in the child.

Therefore I would say punishment is something a person in authority does to someone else as a penalty for his misdeed. The message that punishment really emits is: “I am getting even.” Most importantly penalties of any kind greatly damage the self-esteem of the child. Spanking, slapping, humiliating the child, withdrawing affection, forbidding the child from doing her favourite activity, locking him in dark rooms, or pinching her every now and then are without doubt punishments. No matter how one may justify it, nothing can conceal the crime the adult has committed towards the child.

A key part of growing up is to learn to deal with the results of one’s own actions. What do you think of when you think of discipline? Is it about punishing a child to make him or her behave? Or is it about teaching proper behaviour?

Indeed, discipline is about teaching children appropriate behaviour and helping them become independent and responsible people. For example:

• teaching the child to wash his hands before meals

• teaching the child to brush her teeth before going to bed at night and in the morning

• setting a time limit and ensuring that a child who has gone out with friends is back by then

In my opinion discipline is about:

• teaching the child what to do and setting clear limits about what not to do. It needs to be very clear so that the child can easily understand and comprehend.

• teaching and learning, which can be done in many different ways.

• understanding the rules and being aware of what happens when the rules are broken.

• training the child in a way that she learns to discipline herself.

Discipline is indeed extremely important as it goes with us a long way in life and helps us differentiate between right and wrong. It helps us get along with other people, keeps us safe, and also makes us feel good about ourselves. Thus for me discipline is a set of ways through which an adult caregiver teaches children right from wrong. It is a means of keeping your child safe and protecting him from getting hurt.

Parents must realise that they need to give respect in order to gain respect and this cannot be done with a stick. Parents should create certain boundaries for their children and be firm and consistent in keeping to the rules. These rules need to be mutually agreed upon by both the parents and children. If parents feel children should know why they have taken certain steps then they should not hesitate to explain things. Many a times talking about things can give children a better idea as to why their parents have taken a certain decision. Discipline should also be positive and used to encourage good behaviour as well as to stop behaviour that you do not want your child to be doing.

But how does one discipline?

A few things that I can think of and plan to use for disciplining would be:

• Give the child time to respond, but be consistent. Children do not like to stop doing activities that they are enjoying, so give the child some time to get ready for change. For example if you want a child to stop playing, tell her ten minutes in advance that play should stop in ten minutes. Then ensure that play does stop in that time.

• Get close and gain the child’s attention. It is always better to go to the child, bend down to her eye level and use her name to gain attention.

• Set a good example and be a role model yourself as children learn best by imitation.

• Use a calm, firm voice. Hold the child’s hand and repeat instructions if necessary.

• Tell the child what to do, rather than expecting him to do things on his own. Tell the child what you want him to stop doing and then clearly state what you want him to do instead.

• Give the child the time to cooperate. Wait for her to follow the instructions given, as children take their time to comprehend.

• Praise the child for cooperating.

These ways are definitely not cast-iron rules to discipline, but they can be used as a means to discipline in the classroom as well as at home.

Punishment on the other hand is a harsh treatment which damages the self-esteem of the child and damages her emotional development. Physical or verbal force leaves lifelong physiological damage which the child finds difficult to cope with. Belting, spanking, beating with shoes, hangers, steel rulers and sticks, tying the child’s hands and making her sit in corners for long hours is no solution. Both parents and teachers need to realise the adverse effects of punishment and its ineffectiveness at maintaining discipline.

Umul Binin is a graduate of the TRC-Institute of ECE. She was a pre-service student with us, who had a change of heart and moved from the corporate sector to ECE. She is currently teaching 5-year olds at the Bayview Academy.

November 2011