Should You Punish Your Child?

There are alternatives to punishment that may work best in the long run.

By PT Staff, published on September 1, 2001 - last reviewed on December 19, 2007

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.

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.