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Both parenting and teaching hold their unique brand of stress and frustration.

Some days, things never go right – maybe your students aren’t listening, shouting, or even fighting between children. At those times, it can be challenging to make the right choice when it comes to helping children – especially younger students – to understand what they did wrong and the results of those actions. From being too harsh to being a little too soft, getting that correct level of discipline versus encouragement is practically impossible.

If you’re struggling to draw the line between punishment and consequence, this article might be for you. We take a closer look at each, the differences between the two, and why you might want to lean towards one more than the other.

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What is punishment?

In terms of parenting and teaching, punishment is most commonly a term used when it comes to combating negative behavior or attitudes. Punishing a student is a way in which parents or teachers can show a child that an action they have done is bad or wrong and attempts to show this through the child missing out on something, having something removed, or losing privileges. Examples of punishments could include:

  • Taking away TV time because of hitting another child
  • Not allowing a child extra playtime because they have failed to complete their work
  • Placing a child in detention due to negative behaviors

In the past, punishment has been a common choice for parents and teachers to offer immediate feedback on negative behaviors. However, recent research has suggested that, while discipline can be effective immediately, it isn’t a great parenting tool in the long run. Studies have shown that punishment doesn’t prevent the child from carrying out that negative action.

In many cases, this causes the child to continue the behavior in secret or behind the parent or teacher’s back. Punishment is often from a place of anger, as opposed to being calm and measured, which further reinforces its lack of effectiveness both at home and in the classroom. Punishment is often called a ‘consequence’ in modern parenting, but these are not the natural consequence of those actions occurring.

What are consequences?

In comparison to punishments, consequences are the natural results of an action. Whereas punishment is a teacher or parent taking it upon themselves to decide an unnatural consequence for an action, a natural consequence is entirely different. This is what occurs as a result of negative behavior. Examples of this might be:

  • Going outside without a coat on will result in you being cold
  • Hitting another child will result in that child becoming upset or even hitting back
  • Eating all the sweets will result in a stomach-ache and feeling sick

Unlike traditional punishment or unnatural consequences, these consequences occur when a parent or teacher does not intervene. This means what happens to the child as a result of their actions is directly affected by their behavior. This hands-off approach allows children to learn the direct consequences on the world of their specific actions, however detrimental they may be.

The differences between punishment and consequences

So, what are the differences between punishing a child and allowing them to feel the consequences of their action? According to The Parenting Junkie, we should be careful about what we use when it comes to the way we treat our children and students. Starting with the basics is the best place to be. Punishment means inflicting pain or something negative on a child to suggest their behavior is bad. Consequences, on the other hand, are the natural result of their actions. But is it so clear-cut when it comes to implementing the management and care of children at home in the classroom?

Realistically, many parents and teachers use a mixture of both consequences and punishment, not only to ensure that the individual child knows they have done something wrong and that they need to learn from it. These actions also reinforce the behavior of children around that one child because they learn from seeing the consequences the actions of others have. When teaching children life lessons, association is a valuable tool; consequences are the ideal way to provide that insight.

Do you use punishment in the classroom, or do you prefer your students to see the natural consequences of their actions?