Should You Punish Your Child?

Gina Green, Ph.D.

Researcher, New England Center for Children; Past-president, Association for Behavior Analysis

The best way to reduce misbehavior is to provide abundant positive reinforcement for good behavior. Punishment in the form of unpleasant consequences might stop misbehavior, but it often has undesirable side effects. A child whose behavior is punished may react emotionally, strike back or avoid the person delivering the punishment. Instead of punishing misbehavior, try to catch your child being good. Tell her that you appreciate what she's doing, and do so frequently and consistently. At the same time, make sure misbehavior doesn't pay off by enabling your child to avoid homework or chores, for example, or to gain attention.

Norine G. Johnson, Ph.D.

Past-president, American Psychological Association

If you want a loving, respectful, self-disciplined child you won't use punishment. You will use appropriate parenting tools. For young children you will use diversion, structure, limits and withdrawal of attention. For older children, you will set expectations and spell out the rewards or consequences. In junior high, I took corn from a farmer's field. My father saw me with the corn and asked me to tell the truth, otherwise my punishment would have been twice as bad. I told the truth. I had to apologize to the farmer and eat the raw corn. Today, I value the truth and always wonder what my punishment would have been.

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Terry Mizrahi, M.S.W., Ph.D.

President, National Association of Social Workers; Professor, Hunter College School of Social Work

Punishment implies aggressive behavior on the part of an adult, the very behavior we oppose in children. It breeds resentment, and often leads to increased violence and serious abuse. I'd reframe the question: How do you teach your children to do the right thing; to be caring human beings who understand both their own and others' needs? Social workers recognize that good parenting involves nonviolent, age-appropriate means of disciplining children. I believe that parents should be positive role models and teach their children the negative consequences of adverse behavior by using incentives, time-outs and establishing firm, rational limits.

James Morris, Ph.D.

Professor, Texas Woman's University; President, American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy

The word "punish" means subjecting a penalty for an offense, and usually includes inflicting some kind of hurt. In parenting, such punishment is often practiced by spanking children. The relative benefit and, or, harm of such punishment is open to question, and certainly involves consideration of the unique culture of each family as well as the community in which they are a part. However, the continuing tragic outbursts of violence by children have served to alert us about our responsibilities as parents, and as members of our communities. As such, we would do well as parents to carefully practice less violent ways of discipline that encourage the healthy development of our children.

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