7 common myths about discipline

By Brittney Newcomer, MS, NCSP

At a glance

  • Positive discipline teaches kids to learn from their mistakes.

  • Punishment is a form of negative discipline.

  • Kids gain skills and confidence with positive discipline.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about discipline. Here are some of the most common discipline myths — and facts to debunk them.

Myth #1: Discipline and punishment are the same.

Fact: Punishment is a form of negative discipline. The purpose is to end inappropriate behaviors using consequences that make kids unhappy enough to stop. But punishment is not likely to change kids’ behavior in the long term. 

Positive discipline focuses on helping kids learn from their mistakes. The goal is to change future behavior.

Myth #2: Discipline is all about giving consequences.

Fact: Positive discipline is all about teaching kids solutions. 

When kids misbehave, you talk with them about what could be causing the behavior. How are they feeling? What made them act the way they did?

Then you talk about the more appropriate ways to handle those situations. You might teach kids skills like self-regulation to help them prevent the inappropriate behavior from happening in the future.

Myth #3: Discipline focuses only on negative behavior.

Fact: Positive discipline can focus on positive behavior and correct negative behavior. 

Even in a challenging situation, you can point out what a child handled well. For example, if a child gets in an argument and walks away, you might say, “It was a good idea to take a break by walking away. Next time, try to take a break sooner when you’re starting to feel angry.”

Frequent and immediate feedback about behavior — both positive and negative — helps kids make better decisions in the future.

Myth #4: Taking things away is an effective way to discipline kids.

Fact: Taking things away from kids doesn’t address the problem.

With positive discipline, you give kids natural and logical consequences to help them learn from their mistakes. Consequences should meet the 3 R’s: reasonable, related to the problem, and resulting from the behavior. 

Imagine that two kids are fighting over a ball. One pushes the other. Instead of taking away the ball, a natural consequence would be to stop playing. You can then have a conversation with each child about what to do when someone has something they want.

Myth #5: Time-out is an effective punishment. 

Fact: Time-out is a strategy for calming kids — not punishing them.

A time-out is when you ask kids to go to a spot away from adults and other kids after a difficult moment. Kids need space and time to calm down when they’re feeling a lot of emotions.

After a time-out, some kids may want to talk about their feelings. In that case, you can offer kids a time-in. A time-in allows kids to share their feelings with an adult after a difficult moment.

Myth #6: Kids need to see you as “in control” for discipline to be effective. 

Fact: Kids learn new skills through positive discipline. Those skills put kids in control of their behavior and decisions.

Instead of relying on yelling, arguing, or adults having the “final word,” positive discipline uses two-way conversations to find solutions. Kids learn that they need to be the one to make changes to their behavior if they want to avoid dealing with the consequences.

Myth #7: Discipline can negatively impact your relationships with kids.

Fact: Positive discipline helps you build strong and trusting relationships with kids by decreasing power struggles.  

When kids see they have control over their own behavior, they don’t see you as having control over them. Instead of focusing on negative behaviors and consequences, kids get to focus on solutions and strengths. This helps them feel less fearful of you and more confident in themselves. 

Get more facts about discipline. 

Key takeaways

  • Positive discipline gives kids natural consequences for their behavior.

  • It also helps kids make better decisions in the future.

  • Kids can grow to have control over their own behavior.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Brittney Newcomer, MS, NCSP is the associate director of thought leadership at Understood. She has served in public schools for more than a decade as a teacher, evaluator, and curriculum manager.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.