A case against punishment

Many parents are surprised to hear my stance against punishment. I often get push-back from parents who feel that their children “can’t learn” or “won’t listen” without force, such as spanking, time-outs or yelling. When I offer another perspective parents sometimes feel that it is “too soft” and that it will be “ineffective.”

Just to be clear. I’m not against discipline, but I am opposed to using punishment to change child behavior. The word discipline implies teaching and direction, while the word punishment implies inflicting pain to prove a point.

I’ve seen many families struggle with this distinction.   The more punishment inflicted, the more strain there is on the parent-child relationship. It’s challenging to build a relationship when the children are harboring feelings of anger and fear.   And, to make matters worse, many parents feel defeated and overwhelmed when punishment doesn’t work.

An Example

Bedtime is a struggle for many families.   In our example family, bedtime was out of control.   Their twin 5 year old girls complied with teeth brushing, pj’s and tuck-in time, but once the door was closed, the girls would start arguing.   The arguing would get louder and louder until the parents attempted to intervene.

What are the Options?

Unfortunately, most of the parents’ interventions were based on punishment.   One parent would enter the room and yell (in order to be heard above the arguing).   When that didn’t work, the other parent would enter the room and threaten to give spankings or taking away privileges. Finally, when nothing else seemed to help, they would carry one screaming child into another room.

The natural consequence (staying up late) was not an option since the girls were young and needed sleep for school. And no logical consequences seemed to fit this situation.

The parents were exhausted, frustrated and began to dread bedtime.

A New Direction

At their wit’s end, the parents decided to try a different technique to deal with the bedtime battles. Working together with their girls, the family talked about their bedtime challenges.

  • Clarify expectations: The girls were able to describe what a good bedtime looked and sounded like.   The parents did not have to repeat any expectations.
  • Discuss importance: The girls were given a chance to guess why a good bedtime was important.   Parents did not have to lecture or give a long-winded explanation.
  • Teach lacking skills: Since arguments were the biggest source of conflict at bedtime.   The girls were given the opportunity to practice conflict-resolution strategies during the day (when they were calm) that could be used at night
  • Search for incentive: In this example, the parents wanted the girls to work together to solve the problem. Since both girls loved movies, they created a plan to earn Movie Night once a week.
  • Allow do-overs: Of course, changing a pattern takes time, bedtimes were not always perfect.   Instead of punishment, the parents focused on staying calm and letting the girls practice their skills.
  • Review and make changes: The first solution may not work.   It may take time to find a strategy that solves the problem. Be flexible and creative.

Did it work?

The first night did not go well.   The girls headed back down the argument track.   The parents gently reminded the girls of their incentive, but stayed out of the arguments. In the morning, they reviewed the expectations, problem-solving and encouraged the girls that they could try again.   Each night during the first week, the parents would close the door and wait.   And…to their surprise…after a few nights, the girls stopped arguing!

Yeah, but this is just one example…

When your go-to strategies include yelling, time-outs and taking things away, it’s hard to believe that an alternative solution may work.   It’s challenging to parent differently, and of course, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns.

Is there a parenting issue that you are struggling with? Is there a difficult part of the day for you and your kids? Do you find that time-outs and yelling seem to have little affect on your children’s behavior?

It may be time to look at the situation from a teaching and directing perspective rather than looking to “inflict pain” to get your children to change their behavior.

How can I help?

Parenting is hard.   Changing parenting patterns can be even more challenging!   Parent coaching is a great way to incorporate new skills and strategies into your family.   Together we will discuss your goals and talk about the things that are standing in your way.   I will support you as you begin to implement new techniques into your home.   Contact me today for a free no-obligation phone call to see how Parent Coaching can help you and your family.


Nicole Schwarz (couch 3)

Welcome! I'm Nicole Schwarz.

I'm a Parent Coach, Licensed Therapist and Author of It Starts with You. I help stressed, overwhelmed, confused parents find calm, confidence and connection with their kids. No one is expecting perfection here. But, if you’re willing to examine your parenting, find encouragement, or try something new, this is the place for you.

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