UPDATED: The Parents Yap About Discipline: Punish, Praise, or Both?

There are so many ways to discipline - and not discipline - your kids. What works in your home? The parents yap about what they do, what their kids lose, and what we stand to gain when discipline is doled out.

Paul Simpson
I don’t punish my kids often, and it’s not because they are infallible angels.  I’m just not an effective disciplinarian.  I grew up in a yelling household and I’m carrying on the family tradition.  I don’t find it rewarding but it does let me release frustration and tension.  Sometimes yelling even makes my kids stop doing whatever it is that’s causing me to get angry.  Sometimes.

The punishment front is taking shape on my middle-schooler.  Four simple words: “Give me your phone.”  The phrase sends him into convulsions.  You’d think I asked him to hand over a vital organ.  Luckily, he’s not too mischievous and is your basic good kid.

The problem I have with punishing my younger son is finding his Achilles’ heel.  The kid is impossible to punish.  Nothing bothers him.  I’ll send him to his room and he’ll happily go.  He’ll sit on his bed and read or play quietly with Legos until I tell him to come out.  One time I told him he could come out of his room and he didn’t answer me.  I went upstairs and opened his door to find him sitting on his bed knitting a bookmark for his teacher.  I’ve threatened to get rid of toys that stay on the floor after I’ve asked him several times to clean up.  His response? “Let me get a bag!”  Banning electronics does work sometimes.   He doesn’t like to part with money either, so I have resorted to fining him for various behaviors/actions in the past.  That’s right.  I took his money.

Curiously enough, both my kids have the same attitude towards rewards.  Sometimes an incentive will sway their behaviors, but not always.  I use an app called iRewardChart to help with rewards.  Each kid has a profile and you customize the way in which each one can earn stars, either by doing something positive or by not doing something negative.  You then decide what value a certain number of stars holds, and the app gives suggestions.  15 stars might earn a special dessert or extra time on the computer.  When I got my kids’ input, they wanted cold, hard cash.  So, earning 10 stars gets them $2.  Earning stars is remarkably easy.  Don’t get up from the table during dinner, 1 star.  Put clothes away, 1 star.  Practice instrument for 15 minutes, 2 stars.  They could be fattening their bank accounts just by doing things they should just do anyway, but they don’t.  It’s partly my fault.

I succumb to the parenting shortfall of not following through on both punishments and rewards.  If I offer a reward for something, I’ll keep my word; but I’d have a more harmonious home if I reminded them more often about the reward chart app.  With punishments, I’ll tell them no electronics or screens for the rest of the day, but they know I’ll relent after a couple of hours.  I need to be more like Club Penguin.  Confused?  Let me elaborate.

My 7-year-old came upstairs crying and rubbing his eyes yesterday afternoon.  Through his sobs he managed to tell me he was on Club Penguin, it was the last day of the prehistoric dinosaur theme, and now he couldn’t play anymore.  The site didn’t crash and the computer was working just fine.  Turns out his adorable, virtual cartoon penguin develops a potty mouth when the sensei beats him at cardjitsu.  Club Penguin banned him for 24 hours for using bad language.  He claims he doesn’t even know if he typed anything bad, so I’m inquiring with the penguins-in-charge about the incident.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s a justifiable ban.

Of course I got all sympathetic (that may change when I find out what he typed) and tried to make everything all better.  Club Penguin disagreed.  Club Penguin didn’t care if it was the last day of the dinosaur theme.  Club Penguin wouldn’t wipe the tears off my son’s cheeks and invite him back to frolic with the Brachiosaurs and Triceratops.  Club Penguin is a cold, unfeeling mistress with a few simple rules.  If you break one of the rules, you get punished with a ban of 24, 48, or 72 hours.  If you’re really not fit to mingle with other penguins, you get banished from the glorious frozen utopia.  Good for you, Club Penguin.  I admire how you stick to your guns.  In the future, I will try to follow your lead.

Regina Martine
When my kids were really little, most of their bad behavior was overlooked because they were, well, too little to know any better. Most of the time a “Yay!!” when they did something right or a firm “No!” or “that’s dangerous” or whatever suited the situation when they did something they shouldn’t is really all they needed. Then they got to be about three and they began to wonder what would happen if they didn’t do what mom or dad said … then the trouble began.

My daughters are 9 and 11 now, and I can’t remember the last time I had to punish them for anything beyond sending them to their room to “cool off” for a few minutes so we can then talk calmly about whatever happened. In the past, for my older daughter, I have punished her by not letting her read. Really. That kid would read all day and all night and it is the only thing she really cares if she loses. I have also made my daughters write essays about what they did wrong and why they shouldn’t do it again. This is not to say that now they do everything my husband or I ask them to do with a smile and a spring in their step, but they don’t defy us and refuse to do what we say. My seven-year old son is another story.

Now we are stuck trying to think up appropriate punishments for a kid who seems unfazed by anything we say. He is almost eight years old, so he should understand that he needs to do what we ask, or behave a certain way because we have rules in our home and everyone has responsibilities. The reward is a peaceful, happy family. But of course that doesn’t always work out. When one kid decides throw a screaming fit rather than comply with basic family rules—crazy stuff like putting your own things away, staying out of your sister’s room, sleeping at night—it can be pretty disruptive to family life.

My son thinks I am the “nice one” and his dad is the “mean one,” but I can’t figure out why, since I am the one who is always doling out the punishments. We are not big disciplinarians as parents, so the real punishments are reserved for lying, hitting, and general defiance — all of which my son has been excelling at lately. At least once a week he has had all electronics, all TV, or sometimes specific events, like a hockey game he wanted to watch, taken away. I have cancelled playdates and threatened to throw out the Wii. I have followed through on all of them (except throwing out the Wii – my husband won’t let me.) Whilst my son suffers through his punishment of losing his favorite pastimes, he is genuinely sad and apologetic for whatever it was that he did. Until next time.

When we threaten to take away electronics privileges, playdates, or anything else, he screams “I DON’T CARE!!!!!” goes right back to raging against the Man. We reason with him, explaining that he can do what we ask, and get on with his day, or he can fight and scream and carry on and lose all the fun activites he likes to do, and then do what we asked him to do in the first place. Slowly, very, very, slowly, this seems to be getting through to him. Hopefully logic will win out in the end.


Tasha Schlake Festel
Discipline is a tough one, isn't it? I am hardly an expert. I have made my share of mistakes, but also had my share of victories. At the end of the day, whatever works for you and your family is the right thing to do.

My husband and I support each other. We do our best to be fair and consistent. We try to be reasonable and have the punishment fit the crime, both in theme and intensity. The punishments vary from losing dessert to time outs to missing playdates. Luckily we don't have to dole out punishments all that often. You see, my kids are angels.


But really, we don't rely on punishments to teach good behavior. We usually try to focus on how our kids can make better choices instead of coming down on them for bad ones. Rewarding positive behavior and discussing negative seems to work well for us.

However, there is one punishment that will never be handed down in this house. That is the loss of television. I mean, c'mon. Let's think about who that really punishes!

And I am never that naughty!


Melissa Schools

My in-laws were visiting over the weekend, and as my husband cheerfully prepared dinner for all of us, I remarked ruefully to his dad, “There he goes, buying his children’s love with French fries again!”

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. My husband is a remarkable dad to his kids. I guess that’s why I thought I was so funny with the French fry quip, but I’m not sure he agreed.

When it comes to discipline, my husband can be pretty tough in his expectations of the kids. Overall, though, I think he is an effective disciplinarian because he deals with issues immediately and consistently, and he doesn’t take the boys’ misbehavior personally (*ahem*). He also refuses to get sucked into arguments with the kids. (*ahem!*)

When I compare my husband’s and my approaches to discipline, I keep coming back to the same basic thought: Effective discipline relies heavily upon the self discipline of the disciplinarian, doesn’t it?

There is an important difference between discipline and punishment that is hard to keep in mind. Sometimes I get so mad at my kids’ misbehavior that I forget that discipline is meant to channel actions away from bad behavior, train kids to make good choices themselves, and to draw them (yank them?) back to the right path. My kids don’t really care if my being upset with them is justified or not- they react badly when I reprimand them in an angry way. I have more success when I pretend to be a calm, even-tempered person when correcting them. I still yell way too much, unfortunately.

In our house of boys, it often feels like chaos reigns. They are very active and at times, the foolishness reaches a boiling point: running around, playing tag and jumping on furniture is bad enough, but when the inevitable poking, prodding, teasing, whining and fighting creep in, it’s unbearable! These are the times when I’m likely to have them do star jacks, mountain climbers, push-ups or stair laps. This puts their energy to positive use. They are also pretty jacked. Even the three year old.

The three year old has started to really push limits and loves to refuse to do what he’s told. He has eagerly studied the ways of his older, more defiant older brothers. Luckily for me, he’s still wicked easy to trick. Most times, despite warnings that it’s almost time to pick up his brothers from school, it is a big fat fight to get him to put on his shoes and coat by himself. He is impervious to frustration, yelling and threats, but the second I smile and say, “That’s fine. I wanted to beat you to the car, anyway,” that boy puts it in high gear and gets ready in a flash because he wants to “beat” me. Sucker!

When energy levels and mischief combine to really get on my nerves, they are given jobs to do. My oldest instigator does the best with this kind of discipline. He’s a good worker and has a good heart, but tends to bully his brothers. Having him do something that is a service to me or others works to focus his energy on helping others rather than aggravating them for his own amusement.

For the times when one of the kids is just in a mood to push defiance or disrespect to an art form, consequences have included early bedtime, loss of electronics/screen time, no play dates, or the dreaded, purposely-vague “grounding.” (This is for the olders who should know better than to push past the warnings of lesser consequences, but do so with reckless abandon.) Being grounded basically means, “You will be at my beck and call to do anything I need you to do. If you complain about it, you will get more to do. There will be no extras of any kind. You will be made miserable enough that hopefully you will avoid this consequence in the future.”

Fear not for my children, dear readers! The “hard labor” they are subject to does not go beyond taking out the recycling or the trash, folding or putting away laundry or— horrors!—cleaning up the playroom. Since I’m still working on the same chore chart I started a couple years ago, doing chores definitely feels like a punishment to them. Another good one is to have the olders read to the youngers. Even if it’s only one story, it benefits both reader and listener, and I get some peace.

An important thing to remember is that raising kids and discipline is an endeavor that is ever growing, changing, developing. That is both an encouraging and depressing prospect, depending on where you are as a parent. If I’m rocking the even-tempered, consistent growth-centered discipline, I feel great. If it feels like my kids are eating me alive, then it’s depressing at the moment. As soon as I stop feeling sorry for myself, though, I can be encouraged that things can always improve.

Epilogue: My children have spent the last few days making a complete mockery of everything I’ve written here. Sigh.


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