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Home | Insights | Punishment Doesn’t Work — Here’s What To Do Instead (Part 2 of 2)

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Punishment Doesn’t Work — Here’s What To Do Instead (Part 2 of 2)

When I first suggest to parents that they stop using traditional punishments (time-outs, taking things away, bribes, yelling, shaming, etc.) to manage and guide behavior, they often look at me like I’m nuts.

Many of us can’t imagine parenting without the fear-dynamic that punishment provides: we get scary or mean, our kids do what we want.

It works.

Or at least we think it does.  I thought so too, at one time.  But as I discussed last week [Read Part 1 HERE], it may not be as helpful as we imagined.

So if we are going to try to move away from punishment what can we do instead?

Here are some ten tips from the trenches:

  1. Practice self-reflection and self-control. This is the hardest and most important step.  If we can remain calm and manage both our own expectations and emotions, our children will learn to do the same.  We will explore this more in the coming weeks and months.


  1. Set clear expectations. Sometimes we forget that our children are not mind-readers.  It is critical that we pause, let them know exactly what we expect and let them know what consequences may follow, if any.  For example: “I need you to go get ready for bed.  This means putting on your jammies, brushing your teeth, and going potty.  You have ten minutes to get this done—if you are not ready by 8:00pm, we won’t have time for any stories tonight.”

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  1. Take time for training. Just as our children are not mind-readers, they often don’t know how to do tasks we think they do.  Remembering that our children may need some guidance can be incredibly helpful.  Just as we wouldn’t send a teen out to drive on their own without first teaching them to drive, we have to also take time to teach other skills.


  1. Decide your own actions. Rather than get into a power struggle with a child, decide your course of action, notify your child, and follow-through.  For example: “When your chores are done, I will take you to your friend’s house,” or “When your toys are cleaned up we can sit down to dinner.”


  1. Let the natural consequences flow! Natural consequences—those consequences that naturally follow from certain behaviors—are the absolute best teachers.  If you forget to wear your coat outside, you get cold.  If you don’t turn your homework in, it affects your grade.  If you dilly-dally in the morning, you are late to school.  Nothing teaches as effectively as natural consequences, and the best part is that they require no intervention from you as a parent, so let them happen!


  1. Use logical consequences when needed. Logical consequences are consequences that make sense given the behavior.  They don’t flow naturally, but there is a connection between the behavior and the consequences.  The problem is that too often these are poorly disguised punishments.  The trick is to make sure the consequence is RELATED to the behavior, RESPECTFUL to the child (and adult), REASONABLE from both parties’ perspectives, and HELPFUL.


  1. Get kids on your side. Rather than forcing your will on your child, pause while you demonstrate that you understand and respect their perspective. You can empathize with their thoughts and feelings without condoning their behavior.  And you can share a similar experience with them without letting them “get away with it.”  Children are more inclined to listlist with 2 boxes checked offen when they feel listened to, so listen!


  1. Reach agreements together. Too often parents decide what, when, where, why and how something needs to be done, and then, without getting input, they say “This is what we are going to do—do you agree?”  Then, when there’s no follow-through, parents get frustrated that the agreement fell short and didn’t work.  To improve behavior and cooperation, focus instead on reaching agreements with your children, and then agree on a timeline and what happens if the thing is not done.
  1. Negotiate (Sometimes). Sometimes we have an opinion about something or even reach an agreement and then realize it’s not working or we were wrong.  Hey, we’re human!  Here’s where flexibility can be a parent’s best friend and earn our child’s respect.  Being reasonable and willing to change one’s mind is the hallmark of a tuned-in parent.


  1. Practice self-reflection and self-control.   I said it again.  It matters that much.  If you take nothing else from this list, take that.  After all, how can we expect our children to manage their own emotions and behaviors, if we can’t control ours?


These all seem fine and dandy, you may think, but how does one move from punishment to this?  It can feel scary to let go of the illusion of control that fear-based parenting provides.

I know, I get it…it was hard for me, too.

But having come out on the other side, I can say that I feel better as a parent, my kids feel more connected, and there really is more joy when I stop, get out of my own way, and move forward kindly and firmly, striving to work with my kids rather than against them.

Need help?  I’ve got you!  Reach out here.

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Christy Keating is a certified parent coach,  positive discipline educator, and motivational speaker. She is the founder and CEO of The Heartful Parent Collective, which includes Heartful Parent Coaching, Savvy Parents Safe Kids, and Heartful Parent Academy.

The mother of two amazing daughters, Christy strives to build a happier, healthier world - one child, one parent, and one family at a time.