Five punishment strategies that work


The goal of a punishment is not to hurt or disappoint a child, but to dissuade the child from repeating the negative act. Children can't learn from their mistakes if punishments have no connection to their crimes.

Extra homework, no dessert, and early bedtimes are common punishments that rarely prevent future misbehavior. Punishments must make sense.

Five appropriate punishment strategies:

  1. Elaborate apology

    Saying you're sorry doesn't necessarily mean you are sorry. Challenge your child to apologize without using "I'm sorry" until the end. In order to truly apologize, children must understand the feelings they have caused in someone else.

    Example: A child broke his brother's new toy. Ask the child to think about what it feels like to get a new toy and to imagine playing with it. Say, "How would you feel if someone crushed that toy and you couldn't play with it anymore?" The child must apologize by acknowledging how his brother feels (i.e. "I know you must feel sad and disappointed. That toy was special to you. I feel badly that I hurt your feelings and promise not to do that again.")

  2. Write a letter

    Writing a letter forces children to think about their actions and the consequences. Younger children can draw pictures. The letter doesn't need to be long. If the child becomes too emotional, choose another strategy. Never force writing as a punishment or your child will resent writing.

  3. Help the victim

    The child must help the person he or she hurt.

    Examples: A child pushes her brother to the ground. She must help bandage his cut. A child tramples his mother's garden. He must help her replant.

  4. Make up for the mistake

    If the child is unable to help fix the problem, he or she must find another way to make the person feel better.

    Example: A child eats all the cookies without sharing with a sibling. She must now play the sibling's favorite game.

  5. Lose privileges

    Use this strategy if you can connect it to the misbehavior.

    Examples: You did the laundry early so you could watch a special show. Your child intentionally knocks folded clothes onto the dirty floor, requiring you to rewash during your show. The child must now miss his favorite show.
    A child continues to blast music, preventing you from working on the computer. She loses her computer time.