Children misbehave. That’s a fact. Adults also “misbehave” in their own ways: we choose to not do what we were supposed to do, we choose to lie, to hurt others, to not hand-in things we were supposed to hand-in in college or work. We choose not to do our chores, our to drink too much, eat too much. All of those could be seen as a way of deviating from what we were supposed to do. The children do the same but in a different way: they choose not to clean their rooms, they choose to lie or to get into a fight. Sometimes, these choices are conscient, just like ours. Sometimes, we simply do it without thinking about the consequences. It’s the same with a child, only worse: the child can’t think and analyze profoundly before doing things, their brains aren’t totally developed yet.
So, what are some effective punishments for kids? How can I punish a kid in a way that will make them stop that wrong behavior, and also, prevent it from happening again?
There are all sorts of advice online. To write this article, I had to do some research and found some lists of ideas. I’ll use them as an example, however, I WON’T SUGGEST THE SAME! The first types of punishments I talk about are the most common out there and, I, personally, do not believe any parent should follow them. I’ll explain why and, then, I’ll say what DO works, based on Skinner’s theory of Behaviorism. So, keep reading to find out some “punishments for kids” that are NOT punishments but actually WORK, instead of some terrible ideas like spankings or time-outs.
Some examples of terrible punishments for kids that don’t work:
- Time-ins and time-out;
- Do chores;
- Losing privileges;
- Extra practice: like writing lines and stuff like that;
- The child suggests their own punishment;
- Early bed-time;
On the internet, there are also a bunch of HORROR STORIES of punishments for kids that people had to endure and never forgot. I won’t cite some criminal ones like spankings, but some of those that I found were:
- Go to the door of a theme park then return without entering it as a punishment;
- Throw their favorite toy in the garbage can or out of the window;
- Sit and stare at a blank TV or shut computer without being able to turn it on for hours;
- Donating their toys to Goodwill;
- Make them walk instead of being driven to a place.
Although some of those could be effective, they could also be TRAUMATIZING.
And WHY these don’t work?
Because you have to start seeing your child as A HUMAN BEING, not an object, a doll, a pet, or something like that. They’re SEPARATE BEINGS who deserve RESPECT, the SAME respect you give an adult.
As an adult, how would you feel if you were sad and crying and someone came and yell at you or even hit you? How would you feel if someone locked you in your room, got your things, like your phone and your computer? This would be a crime, right? Why is it okay to do it with a little child?
Also, what would you happen if your colleague at work did something you didn’t like? Would you hit them? If you did, you would go to jail. Would you curse them? If you did, you could be fired. Why should it be different with your own kids?
Time-outs, as they’re commonly seen, just means: go to your room, I don’t want your near me, I don’t want you to express your emotions, I want you to bottle up by yourself. What a way of raising healthy people!
Do chores as a punishment means: this is borings, unfulfilling, and you’re literally cleaning your home or cooking, or whatever, as a punishment, which means, these actions are bad. When they have to do it as adults, they will hate it and remember the times they were punished with it. Same as making the kid study or write as a punishment, the only thing will happen is that they will associate it with bad feelings, and never want to do it again. No wonder why your teen is “lazy” and don’t want to do housechores nor study.
Losing privileges teaches them that you’re not at their side, you can use force to remove something they love. That will really hurt their trust in you and it can have lifelong consequences, like they not being able to confide with you.
And so they list goes on…
I’ve tried it all and all punishments for kids don’t work anymore!
Some parents are ANGRY after they’ve tried everything from the list above and nothing works. The child simply doesn’t RESPOND anymore, they don’t care, the behavior keeps happening, or they are getting even WORSE.
For example, when you try to put a kid who is throwing a tantrum in time-out and the kid simply CONTINUES with the tantrum, or do it over and over again.
There are just TERRIBLE, humiliating, ideas around the internet, and sometimes I even feel a small sense of pleasure when they don’t work as they only make the kid angrier at their parents and more disobedient.
So, what should I do? Keep reading, and I’ll tell you.
But first, a word about behavioral science: how it works.
Skinner, the father of behavioral science, studied the effects of punishments on his subjects. It was terribly effective for stopping the behavior at the moment. However, it caused a lot of negative emotions, like fear, anger, resentment, trauma. The receiver of the punishment didn’t want to come near the punisher perpetrator. And, worse, it didn’t prevent the behavior to happen again. What changed is that the subject started to hide it from the punisher. This is called “escape behavior”.
What should I do instead?
Instead of punishment, behavioral science studies how reinforcement works. Reinforcement makes the subject work harder for the things they want to achieve. For it to work, you must remove stimulus when there’s a not-wanted behavior and reinforce the ones you want.
For example, a kid throwing a tantrum is inappropriate behavior. You should remove the stimulus. In plain English: ignore the kid. The behavior won’t get any reinforcement like attention. When the kid stops and calms down, then you give the reinforcement: the attention they crave.
Natural Consequences versus Punishments for Kids
There’s also a bunch on the internet about Natural Consequences as punishments for kids.
Natural Consequences is the method that I find the most logical WHEN DONE RIGHT, and I’ll explain why.
Natural consequences, as the name indicates, is something that NATURALLY happens after an action. For example, if the kid doesn’t want to eat dinner, their NATURAL CONSEQUENCE is to be hungry! It’s natural, not enforced by you. A punishment would be to make them lose TV time. It is not natural, it doesn’t make sense, and the only thing that will happen is fear or anger at you.
Natural consequences happen to us all, no matter what age. When we don’t do house chores, we live in a mess. When we don’t eat dinner, we get hungry. When we eat bad food, we get fat and unhealthy. It’s the Natural Consequences.
What if my kid doesn’t want to eat dinner and only want to eat candies instead? A natural consequence to not eat is to be hungry. You should remove all candies from their reach. When they want, they can eat some healthy food.
KIDS AREN’T STUPID! Even 2 year-olds UNDERSTAND the concept of HEALTHY food. Now should be the time for you to explain to your kid WHY they should eat dinner now and not a bar of chocolate. They DON’T understand that they will need this in order to live a long healthy life, so don’t try to explain it in these terms. However, you can explain how their bodies work NOW: they could have a stomachache for eating too much candy. They need vitamins, and they can get that with healthy food.
Also, try to UNDERSTAND WHY they don’t want to eat dinner: is it because they hate it, for example? And, as an adult, how would you feel if someone FORCED you to eat something you hate? It’s not cool, right? Treat your kid with the same respect you expect to be treated.
Okay, I removed the candies and now the kid is throwing a tantrum because they’re hungry, they won’t eat dinner, and they want the candies. Ask yourself: what would happen if you saw someone screaming, shouting, throwing a fit, rolling on the ground? I don’t know about you, I wouldn’t stay close to that person till they calmed down. Leave your kid alone (if it’s a place where you can trust) or take them to a safe place and leave them there. The natural consequence of a tantrum is to be left alone, no one wants to be around a screaming thing.
This is different from a time-out. It’s different from saying: you’ll stay in this corner for ten minutes as punishment for screaming. You’ll simply go away and give the child the space they need to calm down. You won’t punish them, you’ll treat them with respect.
When they’re calm, talk to them, treat them as you would have liked to be treated yourself. Sometimes we adults even break things when we are angry. Would you like it if someone came and scolded you or even hit you in this situation? Wouldn’t this make you even madder? The best thing to do is to step away from the situation, wait for the kid to calm down, and then talk to them.
No further punishment is required. The natural consequence happened already. If it happens again the next day: no dinner, wants candies, tantrums; do the same: go away, wait for them to calm down, and talk to them. Why don’t they want to eat that? What is happening?
A final word about punishments for kids
I know it’s not easy. Raising kids is not easy. Dealing with another human being is not easy. But it’s your job. The natural consequence of not dealing with your kid properly is raising a bad human being, or something even worse; is traumatizing a person; is making the world a worse place. That’s why I advise everyone to seek therapy.
On the other hand, the Natural Consequence of putting effort into respecting your child as you would like to be respected is to raise an incredible kid, who also respects you, can trust you, a friend, a lifelong pal, and a great person.
We all make mistakes, lose our heads, but I know you’re trying to get better only by being here! I’ve lost my mind MANY times at the school I work. Once, I almost hit a kid. (What would have happened if I did? I would be fired or go to jail. Talk about natural consequences!)
You got this. I believe in you.
My children’s book about punishments for kids
As always, we Raise Kids with Books here at Raising Kids with Books (duh!), so here goes the picture book about punishments for kids. You can get it, read it with your kid, learn more about Natural Consequence, and what not to do. It’s on Kindle Unlimited if you have that!
You can get it here:
Here’s the blurb: “Riley gets her dream present: a dog for her 6th birthday! The problem is: Riley doesn’t want to stop playing with her, and the dog needs a break. This is a book about limits, respecting other’s necessities, and natural consequences.”
Riley doesn’t want to give her dog a break. The Natural Consequence of that is that the dog gets mad at her. In the book, she also throws a tantrum and the mom shows how it’s a good way to react.
So, I hope this post helped you! Leave a comment if it did! See you next time.