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How to get your children to do what you want without punishment

How to get your children to do what you want without punishment

Punishment is a behavior that inflicts emotional or physical displeasure on a child. This includes yelling, name calling, hitting, sarcasm, or ignoring or isolating your child for a long period of time. Punishment may stop a behavior in the moment, but it does not change a behavior long-term. Here are some reasons why punishment doesn’t work:

● Since the parent’s behavior is the punishment, children may seek revenge or retaliation against the parent.

● Children learn to punish others when they don’t like something.

● Punishment hurts your relationship with your child.

● Punishment may stop the behavior, but it doesn’t teach your child what he/she should be doing instead.

● Children become “immune” to punishment or it stops working when they are no longer afraid of the parent. Then, the parent has to increase the severity of the punishment for it to continue working.

Most parents know that spanking or yelling isn’t the best response when your child is misbehaving, but many continue to turn to this type of punishment because they don’t know what else to do or don’t give any consequences because this is the only response they know.

There is a better way!

Instead of punishing, TEACH!

Appropriate teaching helps kids learn appropriate behavior to replace inappropriate behavior. If you are positive, firm, consistent, and able to give clear messages, you will be teaching. This can be broken down into 3 ways that children learn behavior: through demonstration, description, and consequences.


Children are constantly watching and listening to us so we first need to try and model the behaviors we want our children to use. We often need to shape our own behaviors to effectively shape our children’s behaviors. Now that my 4-year-old has developed her verbal skills I am continually surprised at the phrases and tone of voice she uses. I don’t always realize
what I say until I hear my daughter repeat it back to me, for better or worse.

Become interactive in the learning process and give your child a chance to show what they have learned. This is done through role-play. Just as we give our children play
kitchens to practice cooking or pretend doctor bags to practice giving check-ups, our children should practice how to calm down appropriately and how to properly introduce himself to someone they don’t know. If your child is learning a new social skill, first demonstrate for them what they should do before having them role-play using the skill on their own.


When refraining from using punishments, you become the teacher or coach as you give information that helps your child learn to solve problems. Be specific as you describe to your child exactly what they did wrong. For example, instead of saying “Stop doing that!” explain “Stop hitting your car against the wall.” so it is very clear the behavior they should stop doing.
Then once the negative behavior has been described, be specific in telling them what to do instead.


For example, after telling your teenager that you don’t like it when they ignore your phone calls, explain that you want them to respond through text message or call back within 30 minutes. Give clear, concrete examples of how to improve in the future. Being descriptive also makes it easy to give negative or positive consequences because then you and they know exactly what behavior they have or have not followed through with.


Consistent consequences help your child understand the relationship between what they did and what happened as a result of their actions. Consequences give motivation for a child to improve their behavior. When you notice a negative behavior give one firm if/then statement (“if you continue to yell, then you will lose 15 minutes of TV time”) and then follow through with a consequence. I am guilty of giving my children many chances before I actually follow through with the consequence, which does not help my children learn to change their behavior immediately. The quicker you give a negative consequence the quicker they’ll respond in future situations. If your child knows you are going to give the same instruction three times before you follow through with a consequence, then they’ll often wait until the third time to follow the instruction, but if they learn that you’ll give a consequence if they don’t start the instruction right away, then they will begin to follow instructions immediately.

Children respond better to positive reinforcement, so positive consequences should be used more frequently than negative consequences. Along with rewards, praise should be used frequently for positive behaviors you observe and for improvements in areas where they struggle. Praise helps your child build confidence to learn and use self-discipline (how to be in control of their actions and expression of emotions).

Appropriate teaching uses guidance rather than control. Children are much more likely to learn when they are treated with affection and pleasantness than when threatened with anger and physical punishment. Teaching provides a positive framework for necessary learning to take place.