Consequence vs. Punishment

Consequences are different from Punishments because consequences teach children to learn from their mistakes rather than making them suffer for their mistake. Consequences guide a child’s behavior and help children learn about the results of their behavior.  When used correctly, consequences encourage good behavior and help to keep the lines of communication open between a parent and child. Consequences are done in a calm tone of voice, with a friendly attitude, and with the focus on teaching.  Consequences do not always have to be aversive.  A parent can give a child an enjoyable consequence.

Punishments impose suffering which actually shifts the focus from the lesson that needs to be learned to “showing” who is in control. In punishment based parenting few words of explanation are given by the parent,  children are left confused and unsure of their behavior, and it is given out of anger or frustration. Punishments are often excessive and the parent is not in control. Parents who use punishment usually do not recognize the difference between mistakes and misbehavior. As a result, punishment focuses on the parent being responsible for controlling a child’s behavior, rather than the child controlling his/her own behavior, which is the focus of a consequence

Pointers for Parents

  • For every rule there is a responsibility and a privilege.
    • When the responsibility isn’t met, take away the privilege.
  • Avoid dealing out consequences when angry.
    • This will help avoid falling into giving a punishment. Wait until you feel calm.
  • Be sure to praise earning privileges.
  • The goal of consequences is to help children learn that they are responsible for their behavior.
    • Harsh or punitive punishment causes the child to feel either fear or anger instead of feeling regret for their mistake.
  • Children who are punished:
    • have hard time trusting
    • react with anger
    • isolate themselves from parents
    • learn to avoid punishment and to fear their parent’s anger.

About Steven Petrus

Dr. Steven Petrus is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in psycho-educational assessment, child, adolescent and family therapy.
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