Positive Discipline Vs Punishment: What’s the difference?

Positive Discipline Vs. Punishment: What’s the difference?

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When you are asked your definition of discipline, what would you say? For many people it depends how they were parented.

For many, discipline is synonymous with punishment. As a Positive Discipline facilitator, I was taught that discipline has a different meaning.

In Montessori schools and homes all over the world, discipline is understood as I understand it.

The word “discipline” is from the Latin word disciplina meaning “instruction and training“. It’s derived from the root word discere — “to learn.”

Discipline is not rules, regulations, or punishment. It is not compliance, obedience, or enforcement.


So, what is “Positive” Discipline and how is it different from punishment?

I hear from some of my clients:

But I was punished as a child, and I turned out okay.”

“Sometimes kids NEED to get punished to learn the lesson the hard way, builds GRIT and resiliency, right?”.

How will they know that what they are doing is wrong if they are not punished?

mother punishing child for breaking dish. No discipline.


Yes, I know punishment works sometimes. Punishment works great in the short term if you want the behavior to stop right away.

Your child runs away from you in the store and you grab their arm and yell and threaten. Your child speaks to you disrespectfully and you flip your lid and react and punish.

I know, I’ve been there.

I’ve tried to punish my kids, I have had my moments of shaming and blaming and have found that it just doesn’t work. In fact, it usually makes the situation much worse and I always wonder, “what are the long-term effects?


What punishment actually invites is for the child to feel badly about themselves. They might be deciding they are a “bad kid” and retreat internally.

They might be thinking how they can be sneaky and not get caught next time. They might be so angry and resentful and want revenge to get back at you for making them feel worse.

Rudolf Dreikurs, a Vienese psychologist (what Positive Discipline’s work is based on) says, “People do better when they feel better.” When did we get this crazy idea that in order to make our kids do better first, we have to make them feel worse?


What punishment doesn’t do is teach the social and life skills that children need to learn and thrive. We are the child’s guide in this world and the form of discipline that is most effective is based on treating others with dignity and mutual respect.

When children are treated with respect, they learn to respect themselves and others. Positive discipline is based on following these 5 criteria.

FIVE CRITERIA FOR EFFECTIVE DISCIPLINE

  • Helps children feel a sense of connection.  (Belonging and significance)
  • Is mutually respectful and encouraging.  (Kind and firm at the same time.)
  • Is effective long – term. (Considers what the child is thinking, feeling, learning, and deciding about himself and his world – and what to do in the future to survive or to thrive.)
  • Teaches important social and life skills.  (Respect, concern for others, problem solving, and cooperation as well as the skills to contribute to the home, school or larger community.)
  • Invites children to discover how capable they are.  (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy.)


Recent research tells us that children are “hardwired” from birth to connect with others, and that children who feel a sense of connection to their community, family, and school are less likely to misbehave. To be successful, contributing members of their community, children must learn necessary social and life skills.


It’s much easier to have patience and show this loving kindness in our parenting when we feel good; when we are well rested, well-nourished and less stressed (when we’re happy!). I always remind my parents how important self-care is and our need to prioritize our health and wellness and ask ourselves if OUR needs are being met on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.

Many moms I know sacrifice their own well-being in order to take care of their families and this helps NO ONE.


We are teaching life skills and communication skills to help our kids to be successful in life. We all have our unique stories of our experiences in childhood.

Our parents did the best they could with what they had, and we are all just trying our best. Remember it’s only 3 out of 10 times we need to try.

Mistakes will happen, apologies will be said, life lessons will be learned. Stay strong on this parenting journey and choose to treat each other with dignity and respect. It goes a long way.

For more information, visit www.kristenancker.com.

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