Punishment VS Consequence


Let’s just say I’ve had an interesting week.

Without going in to details I spent A LOT of time (more than I do most days) working through an issue with a number of year 4 boys. I was shocked to learn as my investigations developed that not one of the students I worked with had told an adult what was happening for fear of the ‘punishment’ they thought they would receive and the ‘trouble’ they thought they’d get into. The sad reality that for one boy, some serious trouble has occurred, some seriously bad trouble which could have been avoided if only one of his peers had spoken out and got some support in managing the situation in its earlier stages.

What none of the students seemed aware of was the difference between consequence and punishment. As I often work with staff who seem to also confuse the two I ‘m hoping the information below might provide a useful reference for staff wanting to improve their practice and behaviour support skills and/or support parents with managing their children’s behaviour at home.

So let’s start with punishment…

Punishment is something that someone (usually in a position of authority or power) imposes upon another. It usually involves shame or humiliation and to me implies an element of pain or suffering with the most obvious punishment that springs to mind being smacking. The child’s behaviour doesn’t necessarily cease because of an understanding about why it is wrong, but can change instead as a result of wanting to avoid it. Punishment is often considered by those who receive it to be illogical and unfair and teaches the child to be fearful and afraid.

As opposed to consequences…

Consequences on the other hand occur when rules which have been explicitly discussed (and which everybody involved is aware of) are broken. They are the natural solution to a problem that should make the situation better. Examples include replacing something that has been broken, apologising to someone who has been hurt or removing graffiti from a wall. It provides an opportunity for the person who has wronged to make things right in a safe environment and gives the child an opportunity to learn from their mistakes (because in schools we are after all working with children who are as busy learning about appropriate social behaviour as they are learning how to read and count).

In addition, logical consequences allow children to take responsibility for their behaviour without being fearful of getting punished or in trouble which means they are much more likely to tell the truth about their involvement in an issue. If we are wanting to teach children about the importance of both being honest and from leaning from their mistakes then applying logical consequences when set rules are broken is the best way to achieve this.

Sometimes children may say you are punishing them when you impose a consequence. The reality is that they may perceive it that way which is why it’s so important to remain calm and even kind (firm but fair) when working through issues where rules have been broken. Useful ways to quash this perception is to explicitly tell children that you are not angry (instead I say I am concerned). I also ask them to tell me how they know that I am not angry (they invariably say because of the tone of my voice and my facial gestures) and to involve children in the process determining what the consequences of their behaviour should be. You may find (as I have over the years) that children are often much harsher on themselves than they need to be which I find is interesting in and of itself.

What logical consequences does your site use to support behaviour issues as they exist at your school? And what punishments do you see imposed which cause more harm than good? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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