“Discipline” and “Punishment” often are used interchangeably, but they do not mean the same thing. When we hear “discipline,” you may picture a child’s behavior in need of correcting. However, did you know the word “discipline” comes from the Latin word ‘disciplina,’ which means teaching? Somewhere along the way, “discipline” changed from “teach” to “punish.”

Learn more about why children “misbehave.”

What is Punishment?

Punishment often focuses on past misbehavior and does not provide clear expectations for future behavior expected. It can involve disapproval, isolation, pain, blame, and shame. Punishment can cause children to shut down and does not allow for learning, and simply does not create long-term changes in behavior. It results in children thinking, “What happens to me if I resist?” rather than encouraging them to think about “What kind of person do I want to be?”

Here’s interesting information about the effects of punishment on children’s brains.

What is Positive Discipline?

Positive Discipline is an idea that focuses on teaching the child self-control, responsibility, and to respect themselves and others. The core of positive discipline is that there are no bad kids, just unwanted behavior. When we change our perspective to recognize our child’s behavior as communication, we can use compassion and empathy while managing difficult behaviors.

Some argue without punishment, parenting becomes too permissive, allowing a child to run the show. However, Positive Discipline promotes partnership between children and caregivers. Children need discipline and limits, but not punishment.

Positive Discipline Punishment
Uses conscious discipline to teach expectations for future behavior Uses isolation, pain, threats, and blame for past behavior
Teaches self-control, responsibility, and respect. Promotes fear, shame, disapproval
Parent thinking:

“There are no bad kids, just unwanted behavior.”

“My child is naughty and acts bad.”
Child thinking:

“What kind of person do I want to be?” “How does my behavior affect others?”

“What happens to me if I resist?” “I need to comply to please others.”

Tenets of Positive Discipline

Positive Discipline follows these principles when responding to our child’s difficult behavior:

It’s important to note, even when using Positive Discipline our children will likely have difficult behaviors. It’s developmentally appropriate for children to express themselves through crying, fussing, and testing boundaries. Practicing Positive Discipline allows our children a safe place to learn and change their behavior as they grow.

What does the research say about Positive Discipline & responsive parenting?

Using Positive Discipline can teach our children empathy, compassion, emotional competence, problem-solving skills, social skills, and expectations for their behavior.

Even across ethnic and cultural differences, studies continue to show positive discipline is associated with more positive outcomes in children (Pinquart & Kauser, 2017; Steinberg, 2001).

Research indicates the following benefits of positive discipline and responsive parenting styles:

Develop stronger connection and attachment with caregivers

Attachment theory is well researched and supported by evidence. Even starting in infancy, research suggests mothers who are more sensitive to their child’s interest and needs are more securely attached (Fuertes et al, 2006). In another study, undergraduate students in the United States were presented with a series of moral problems and asked how they would solve them. Students from families using positive discipline strategies were more likely than others to say that their parents–not their peers–would influence their decisions (Bednar & Fisher, 2003).

Increased empathy for others and improved emotional health

Positive discipline and responsive parenting may help children become more empathic, helpful, and kind to others (Krevans and Gibbs 1996; Knafo and Plomin 2006). Children who are encouraged to develop their emotional intelligence may be better at controlling their impulses, internalizing rules, and responding to delayed gratification (e.g., Heikamp et al 2013; Bernier et al 2015).

Decreased aggressive or defiant behaviors in the future

Practicing tenets from Positive Discipline may also help prevent children from developing aggressive or defiant behavior problems (Choe et al 2013; Arsenio and Ramos-Marcuse 2014). Additionally, children may be less likely to engage in drug and alcohol use, juvenile delinquency, or antisocial behavior (Benchaya et al 2011; Luyckx et al 2011).

Increased moral reasoning skills

Children may develop more advanced moral reasoning skills (Krevans and Gibb 1996; Kerr et al 2004; Patrick & Gibbs 2016).

Increased language development

Infants learn language more rapidly when caregivers respond promptly and contingently to what babies do (Tamis-Lamonda et al 2014).

Improved ability to problem-solve

Multiple studies support children who are taught using Positive Discipline strategies have increased problem-solving skills as compared to their peers (Turkel and Tezer 2008; Rothrauff et al 2009).

Increased resilience from toxic stress

Using Positive Discipline may decrease children’s risk of chronic disease, premature aging, and effects of toxic stress throughout their life. One study using fMRI suggested sensitive and responsive parents can protect children from brain-shrinking that can occur from toxic stress (Luby et al, 2013).

Follow-up studies confirm the effect lasts into the toddler years, and researchers suspect effects on epigenetics, or long-term alterations of DNA function (Sharp et al 2015; Pickles et al 2016). Early life stress can silence genes that help regulate an individual’s stress response system; however, tactile affection appears to reverse the effects (Murgatroyd et al 2016).

Learn more about Positive Discipline:






Check out all our posts about Communicating with Connection. 

Parenting was never meant to be done alone. I’m here for you. If you are a caregiver wanting to create parent-child connection, use effective communication, and build harmony at home, click to learn more about our caregiver coaching classes available or contact us for a free consultation phone call to see how working together can help you.

Positive Discipline – A Fine Parent


Toddler Discipline Without Shame – Janet Lansbury

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