Consequences versus Punishment

Consequences versus Punishment

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

This blog is based on the podcast “Consequences vs Punishment with High School Students” by Dr. Becky Bailey, the creator of Conscious Discipline.

Dr. Bailey begins the podcast by first defining the two words. Did you know that the word consequence has roots in Latin and French meaning “that which follows” or along the lines of growing out of an event or an effect. The legal definition of punishment is to afflict pain or a person losing something. As you can see, these two words are extremely different in definition, and yet are typically used interchangeably in education.

Through Conscious Discipline, students are taught that there are consequences for actions and to take responsibility for those ramifications rather than try to place blame and assign punishment for the behavior. This is a shift in mindset that we must make in education. In our role, we are always educating children. When we approach an issue from the standpoint of consequences so that the child understands this is the effect or the outcome of an event due to their actions rather than taking revenge on a child for disobeying, then child is able to take responsibility.

We should never give a child a punishment in school. The difference between punishment and consequences is the mindset that one views a situation. When a child is always afraid of the impending doom of a punishment then a child will not be able to learn in the classroom or change the problem behavior. Students (all people) go into a fight or flight brain mentality which inhibits the ability for them to learn from the situation.

Now that we know there is a significant difference between consequences and punishments, how do we implement consequences in the classroom? Let’s look at a systematic issue that I have seen in most buildings I have worked in so far.

Johnny decided to skip class one day. When he came to school the next day the principal called him into his office and gave him In School Suspension (ISS) for the day. Johnny goes to ISS and does not attend a single class all day. Let’s exam the consequence for Johnny, he did not want to go to the class he skipped and his consequence is to not got to class a second day… To me, Johnny was rewarded with not having to go to class again. This would be a scenario of a punishment rather than a consequence since it was not a natural event that grew from a situation. The punishment was removing social interaction and isolating the student.

A more appropriate consequence would be for Johnny to have to stay after school or come before school to make up the missed class time. The natural sequence of events would be that Johnny made a decision to skip his class time, and therefore has to make it up at a different time.

In the classroom we should look for naturally occurring consequences that come from a child’s decision. When a child chooses to not study for a test, the consequence is they get a low grade on the assessment. If it is a behavioral issue, such as a child acting out, we need to find out what the root cause for the behavior is and determine a natural consequence that matches the misbehavior. This is the whole purpose of Conscience Discipline, to be mindful of what the behavior is and why it has occurred. Once we understand why behavior has happened, then we need to show students that there are natural consequences for their decisions.

I want to make sure people understand, implementing consequences versus punishment does not mean that we as teachers turn our backs on bad behavior. Looking to use consequences in the classroom is working towards correcting the behavior and teaching the students long lasting changes. If a child is refusing to participate in the classroom activity simply sending them to the office for defiance will not result in any change. You will just get the satisfaction that the child got in trouble. Instead we should work to understand why the child is refusing to participate. Determining the why does not eliminate the need for a consequence, it just makes sure the consequence matches to behavior.

I am continuing my journey of understanding more about Conscious Discipline and look forward to helping my students socially and emotionally as well as academically. Here is the link for Conscious Discipline, give it a look and let me know what you think!


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