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Penalising children for poor behaviour is sometimes the trickiest part of being a parent or guardian.

Trying to instil the values you would like your children to have when they grow up can almost seem like war at times, and can often sound like it!

But hey, when 80’s kids were blaring the lyrics ‘love is a battlefield’, they meant all types of love, and that goes for your little ones. After all, you want to raise your children to be responsible adults with the ability to learn from their mistakes and take ownership of their own choices.

Punishment and discipline work best when children are able to clearly link their poor behaviour to the consequences of that action, and while it can tug at the heartstrings to penalise children, it is an essential tool in teaching them right from wrong.

A great way to link bad behaviour to a consequence is to remove your child from an activity. To stop, get them to stand still and to actually think about the behaviour and the consequence it caused. An example could be when your child is yelling and screaming to get their own way. Tell them to stop, stand still and wait until they stop the poor behaviour, they can’t scream forever (even though it may seem like it will never end).

Calmly do not give in to their demands and say “mummy knows best.” Let them know that if they choose to yell and scream again they will lose a privilege, like watching their favourite television show. If they do it again let them know they won’t be able to watch the show tomorrow either. They will soon learn poor behaviour causes them to miss out on things they like.

Depending on the crime, other punishments include: 

  • Denying a privilege as a consequence – depending on the seriousness of the crime, revoking privileges like ‘no TV for an afternoon or for two days’ can snap younger generations into the right frame of mind.
  • Missing a favourite outing – like an activity, visiting a friend’s house, a party or a sleep-over. This is an effective punishment when the child does something like not completing their chores independently or without whining.
  • Add an additional chore for them to complete. This will also replace ‘free’ time. A punishment like this would work best if they did something like refuse to clean up their room or failed to take the washing off the line and fold it neatly.
  • Refusing future requests while reminding them why. Explain if they don’t like the consequence, they shouldn’t have committed the crime.

Linking the action to the consequence is one of the most important aspects to remember when making sure the punishment fits the crime.  I often tell children who misbehave, “remember, if you don’t like the consequence avoid the behaviour that caused it”, similar to how adults learn, ‘if you don’t want a speeding fine, don’t speed!’

Another important aspect is consistency. You will confuse the child if you penalise them one day but overlook the same or worse behaviour at a different time. You need to remain committed to your discipline plan so you don’t give-in to pleading in a moment of weakness or when you are tired and feel overwhelmed. You don’t want your child learning that by pleading incessantly will break you and you will give in to their demands. 

With every storm comes a rainbow though, and I always encourage parents to take the time to instil good behaviour through praise and positive comments. It isn’t just poor behaviour that has consequences. Good behaviour has consequences too. Praise good behaviour.

It is good to think these things through before there is a problem. Know in advance how you will respond and what the consequences should be. Often children can even come up with their own consequences for poor behaviour. 

Some wise discipline ideas include:

  • Praising good actions
  • Praising the positive changes you see children make, especially when you see their efforts or results improving
  • Praising them when they independently follow routine
  • Demonstrating how they need to behave – be a good role model
  • Letting kids know when they are misbehaving and letting them know when they have chosen to behave well
  • Giving them a fresh start – if children do something wrong, they need both the consequence of a penalty and forgiveness. Let them know they are loved even when they make poor choices and behaviour poorly – always give them the opportunity to get it right next time. Clean the ‘slate’ at the end of each day – we all deserve a fresh chance to get it right tomorrow.