Punishing Your Kids – 7 Better Alternatives That Actually Work

Think of all the classic ways of punishing your kids. We have quite a variety from our own childhood such as spanking, beating, time outs, illogical consequences, and so on. They are still widely used to-day.  It is sad to reflect on how another generation may well repeat the same errors their parents made when bringing them up. Will the next generation learn about effective ways to discipline a child?

In this post we shall look at 7 easy alternatives that are going to be much more effective in the long run.

The dangers of punishing your kids in the traditional way.

First, let us look at why the old classic ways of punishment do more harm than good. Dr. Alan Kazdin is a Yale University psychology professor who also manages the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic has very clear ideas about all this.

Corporal punishment is the easy way out. It seems simple and effective but studies show that this is not true. It is used because parents are:-

  • Frustrated
  • Unaware of the effects
  • Short of time
  • Helpless
  • Ignorant about child development

Yet 60% -90% of US parents still think it might work. The spanking and slapping are all supposed to cause the child such physical distress that he or she will stop it. They even think that the child’s behavior will improve and that s/he will learn how to behave in future.

Domestic violence is not allowed so why should an adult be allowed to hit a much weaker and more vulnerable human being?  If that were normal, we would have employers slapping their workers to improve performance!

It is also an example of bullying behavior and this time the parents themselves are setting a horrible example

All the studies show that the child may become a violent adult and will be more prone to delinquency, and criminal behavior. It also does nothing to improve the relationship between parents and their kids.

Elizabeth Gersoff and Susan Bitensky’s research (University of Michigan) research shows that coporal punishment does not produce any long term benefits.

“The research summarized above suggests that, when examined through the lens of a parent’s goals, corporal punishment is not successful in achieving increases in long-term compliance and decreases in defiant and aggressive behavior.” – Gersoff and Bitensky.

Punishing your kids with aggression and violence means they are learning a negative life lesson which will distort their social development. It is certainly not one of the best ways to discipline children..

How do these kids grow up?

You can sound out people who were severely punished as kids. They are the living proof of the effects of beating a child. We know that about 12% of American kids are at risk from physical abuse. Their reaction is usually not very positive or kind and loving towards their parents in return. Would you expect them to be like that?

I know one guy who is about 30 years old who told me that he would recommend his parents take out old age insurance premiums because they cannot expect any love or affection in return!  I know others who found that they grew up in anger and were full of revenge as a result of their beatings. Others said that it made no difference to their behavior as they knew they were going to get slapped anyway.

As regards physical punishment at school, I remember being caned with a bamboo stick for sloppy handwriting covered in ink blots. I can still feel the pain in my fingers as I recall that!

 What is the key to successful parenting?

I know some people who rightly say that punishing your kids by using physical abuse against them is an admission of failure.

However, this does not mean that parents can be judged overall on this issue. There may be parents who use physical punishment and may be parenting  well in other areas such as giving their kids a strong value system. I am sure we all know parents who never use any violence at all and yet are a total failure in parenting.

Successful parents are those who can give their time and energy in explaining to their kids what is right and wrong. They can offer suggestions and above all give them their love and affection.  Absentee parents or violent parents are all taking the shortcut and it rarely works.

 “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.”  – Dr. Alan Kazdin

The Everyday Parenting Toolkit: The Kazdin Method for Easy, Step-by-Step, Lasting Change for You and Your Child

The UN Convention on the Rights of The Child (CRC)

There are conventions and laws on punishing your kids. However, it is also sad to note that the only 2 countries who have not actually ratified the UN CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child)  are the United States of America and Somalia.  We know that the US has signed the agreement but has not actually put it into practice. As regards physical punishment in schools, at least 45 of the 192 countries have banned but in the US, this form of punishment is still actually legal in 19 states.

 7 Better Alternatives to Punishing Your Kids

The idea of punishing your kids, whether it is actually physical or psychological, is often carried out in the hope of reforming the child’s behavior. It very rarely helps in actually disciplining your kids.

1. Control YOUR emotions

You have had enough. Your child is screaming and refuses to comply. You are tempted to start screaming back and yelling. This is the normal reaction to a child shouting at parents.

Why would you expect a six year old kid to act reasonably or intelligently when she has been on this planet for only a few years?  They do not have the emotional development or impulse control that you have, so why expect that?  Telling them to display some self-control is ridiculous. Why not take time out yourself and try and gain self-control.

“The last thing an out-of-control kid needs is an out-of-control parent.” – Barbara Coloroso

2. Set clear rules and targets

No need to give long-winded instructions. The rules need to be simple, clear and concise and that goes for all the explanations as well. Actually, you do not need explanations most of the time.

This may be difficult for some parents to avoid. If there are any loopholes, your kid will be the first to exploit them.  When they know the rules and they are clearly displayed (charts and so on), it really does make life easier.  Avoid getting into arguments about whether it is fair or not  or whether X or Y are allowed to do it. Just say something neutral like “ I know” or “I get it” and avoid any arguments.  Setting limits and keeping to them is key.  A great book to start you on setting limits is:-

Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child, Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing CLEAR, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries

3. Forget the lying, threats and the bribing

The secret here is to concentrate on connection parenting which is sometimes called attachment parenting.  Use your empathy to talk to the child how he or she is feeling about  not wanting to go to daycare. It is much better to say to your child that you understand why they sometimes just do not want to go. By agreeing that something is difficult or downright unfair is a great way to neutralize what could be a fruitless argument.

There is no need to resort to lies (even white ones!) or scare the child by saying that their dreaded monster is going to come and get them if they do not do….. whatever.  Bribing is even worse when you promise a carrot in return for some stick. This can boomerang when the child says “But last time you gave me …. “

4. Talk about what is happening

When you are faced with defiance or tantrums, it is always better to talk about them in a calmer moment. Dealing with it head on can raise the temperature to intolerable levels and you will be under pressure to keep calm.

When things have calmed down, you can talk about why they are feeling angry or why they are so tired. It is a great way of labeling their reaction and empathizing with it.  You might have to explain that certain words and curses they have picked up at school are unacceptable. Again, you will be able to point to the rules which say that insulting and shouting is just not tolerated in your family.

Then, if you have already implemented and set the boundaries, you are more likely to have a compliant and more obedient child. You never have to resort to nagging, pleading or bribing or even threats. How many times do parents say “If you do that again, I’ll…….”

5. Don’t be afraid to say NO

Many parents are afraid of saying NO but when your kids are at risk (especially toddlers), you just have to say NO. We are thinking about safety issues, falling down, burning themselves and so on.  Here it is absolutely necessary and we may need to actually remove them physically form the danger zone. Again, there is no need for spanking, neither is there any need to  to shout across the room  with the TV blaring as the child may not hear you anyway. Watch the video here with Emma Jenner who gives some great advice on this problem.

6. Punishing your kids is not disciplining the

Disciplining your kids is all about learning and teaching. A sore hand does not teach much about how to behave and get on in life. Your kids need your help in discovering what behaviors are acceptable and which ones cross over the line. It is also about showing respect for other family members.

Consequences are sometimes used to help kids learn the consequences of their actions. This can work provided they are not totally illogical. An example would be to cancel a playdate because the child has been disrespectful. There is no link between the two and often the action happens far too long after the initial “crime.”  Or you could tell a teenager to study more- if not they will not be allowed to go to the concert. At the heart of all this is the fear of the parents losing control and becoming even more worried that their kids are going off the rails.

Consequences only work when they are reasonable, practical and teach the child something. It is quite reasonable to ask a child to clean up a mess she makes so she fixes what she did wrong.  If your kid hits another child, he can be reminded of the rule after calming down and then asked to make a gesture such as an apology after all the fuss has died down.

What really works best is to have a problem solving approach and get the child involved in what other options are available. As usual, talking about it is usually the best solution.

Dr. Laura Markham does not like consequences at all and is very much in favor of “time-in”, because time outs are really abandoning a child to his anger, fear and revenge. You can read more about how she helps parents connect with their kids. There are some great takeaways on disciplining your kids.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting 

7. Catch them doing good

Too often, parents home in on the negative aspects of a kid’s behavior. This can often turn into nagging. Much better to play down that and catch them being good. Show your appreciation when they helped clear up or put their toys away neatly. Also, it is much better to actually say what they did well instead of just saying “Good girl.”

As we have seen, punishing your kids in a violent and aggressive or spiteful manner will never teach them the life lessons they need. Giving them your time and affection while guiding them will eliminate many of the problems over time. You have to be patient but you will see results.