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© 1990, The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska on behalf of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension. All rights reserved.


There is no doubt that discipline is needed in families. Society could not exist if people acted without concern for others. Why, then, is there so much disagreement about this subject?

Parents often misunderstand and confuse the terms discipline and punishment. They see them as being the same thing but they are not. The dictionary defines discipline as "a system of rules governing conduct." It is "training that corrects, molds, or perfects." In contrast, punishment is defined as "retributive suffering, pain, loss, or penalty." The term discipline has its origin in the word "disciple" -- a follower who learns from the teachings of another. Clearly then, the focus of discipline and punishment are quite different. Discipline implies a set of attitudes and behaviors that the teacher hopes the follower will acquire. It is a learning experience--not punishment, not tears--but a chance to learn how to live in a social world. Thus, punishment may be a part of discipline, but not the major part.