The Difference Between Punishments and Consequences

Do you prefer a more traditional style of child raising, or do you like to innovate? Today we'll help you learn the difference between punishments and consequences.
The Difference Between Punishments and Consequences

Last update: 03 September, 2018

Children have a knack for testing limits and breaking rules. This is part of their learning experience. At the same time, as parents, we can choose how to react to each situation in order to better educate our little ones. This is when it’s important to know the difference between punishments and consequences.

In the face of life’s daily challenges, it’s important to remain calm and act like the adult you are. Don’t allow yourself to be overcome by the impulse and negative emotions of the moment. Avoid unhealthy confrontation.

Why? Because doing so helps us avoid hurting our children and causing a rift between us. During those difficult moments is when we most need to stop, think and evaluate our educational methods.

It’s worth mentioning what Spanish child psychologist Alberto Soler explained below regarding old-fashioned and harmful child-raising techniques:

“One way of communicating discipline to children is through rewards and punishments, which are the methods that most parents today were educated with, and the most employed methods used to obtain good behavior. However, methods based on rewards and punishment are not without their numerous disadvantages.

The Difference Between Punishments and Consequences

Respecting authority: Punishments and consequences


Punishments always produce a certain level of discomfort. This discipline method makes children feel bad. The idea is that children won’t repeat the undesired behavior out of the fear of disappointing their parents.

Children don’t learn about values in life when they receive threats and feel fear regarding certain actions, without understanding the reason.

Punishments are an authoritarian way of getting children to obey the rules. It may seem to be effective at the time, but it doesn’t produce a sense of responsibility in  children.

Rather, it causes feelings of anger, resentment and lack of motivation. These factors lead children into dishonesty and evasion.

The worst part about punishment is that it places judgment on the children themselves rather than on what they actually did. In other words, parents attribute a negative connotation on the child rather than on the action. This hurts the child’s self-esteem.

The situation soon takes on a snowball effect, where the victim is the child. His or her self-image deteriorates, causing even more inappropriate behavior in the future. 

The consequences

Now we’ll look at the use of consequences as a discipline method. When we define and explain consequences to our children, this helps them truly understand why certain behaviors are negative. It also helps children understand the effects of their actions .

Unlike with punishments, when we offer children an explanation of the consequences of their actions, we don’t shame them. Rather, we encourage reflection, understanding, good communication and even empathy.

The Difference Between Punishments and Consequences

Our mistakes are our best teachers. When we experience them in a positive way, they provide valuable lessons.

Consequences focus on the results of actions and not on individuals themselves. Children come to realize that there are problematic behaviors, but not problematic children. As a result, their self-esteem doesn’t take the blow, and their characters become strengthened.

In other words, when we help children comprehend the consequences of their actions, we avoid creating a negative environment. We avoid confrontation and power  struggles. 

The 3 R’s of logical consequences

In order for consequences to have value, they need to meet 3 requirements :

  • Relation. If your child purposely spills his juice, then he should clean it up. Taking away his game control or prohibiting screen time has no relationship whatsoever to the behavior in question.
  • Respect. Unlike with punishments, consequences don’t degrade children. At all times, parents should avoid reacting in moments of rage. You can never take back the hurtful words you say. Even when you are putting a corrective action into place, your tone of voice and your words should be serene and respectful.
  • Responsibility. This final characteristic refers to the fact that the consequences should involve an action that the child is able to perform. They should also be proportionate to the behavior that you are trying to improve. Keep your child’s age in mind as well as the seriousness of the misbehavior.

While some parents of this generation have been educated through punishment, modifying your discipline techniques is possible.

Discipline should be quick and firm, but also based on respect and the fact that children are human beings worthy of respect. The way in which your children assimilate authority depends greatly on your own reactions and decisions.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.