Thanks for asking this great question. Yes, you are exactly right. I am equating discipline with punitive. I realize that is not what the word discipline actually means, but it is how most people use it.
Since "discipline" means "to guide," positive discipline means "positive guidance” -- which should mean the same thing as loving guidance, right? But I find that the term discipline signals different things to different folks: “I don’t spank, I just do timeouts,” or “I don’t do timeouts, but of course I give consequences, like taking away his cell phone.” Those are guidance, yes, but using punishments. One dad even proclaims on his “positive discipline” blog that when kids misbehave, they need punishment in the form of spankings.
I think the confusion is in the word “discipline,” which most of us associate with harsh teaching. So while I do occasionally use the term positive discipline because most parents use it, you will notice that I am more likely to use the terms loving guidance, gentle guidance, positive parenting, or simply “limits with empathy.” My goal is to get parents out of the discipline business altogether.
That's not impossible, if we raise a child who WANTS to behave.
Are you thinking, “But sometimes the child needs correction!” Yes, that’s absolutely true. But we can correct and guide children by setting clear, firm, empathic limits. I find that I actually set higher standards than most of my children's friends, in that we expect (and receive) kind, respectful words, no yelling, no TV, no facebook until homework's done, excellent academics, responsible behavior, participation in family activities and dinners, etc. You don't need punishment to set high standards and raise wonderful, compassionate, responsible children. Empathic limits and guidance, yes, constantly. But punishment always gets in the way.
Even milder punishments like timeouts and parent-driven “consequences” actually sabotage our efforts to raise the responsible, happy, well-behaved children we want to raise, because instead of giving children help with the needs and emotions that are preventing them from behaving as we’d like, we withdraw our support and give them the message that they’re “bad.” What’s more, we erode the strong bond that gives our child reason to “behave.”
What kind of child do you want to raise? Happy, responsible, considerate, respectful, honest -- whether 6 or 16? A teenager who’s close to you, who turns to you when she’s in trouble? Your chances of these outcomes go way up if you never punish your child. That means no spanking, no timeouts, no yelling, no contrived consequences. Really. No punishment of any kind. Not even discipline, as it’s traditionally understood, because virtually everything we think of as discipline is still punishment. There is never a reason to be punitive in our teaching.
So yes, I do believe in discipline in the sense that you are using it, just not in the sense that most parents use it.
The irony is that kids raised with empathic limits are quicker to develop self-discipline. Here's a whole set of articles that explains more fully what I mean. http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/discipline
I hope that's a helpful explanation.