Parents are often unclear about the difference between consequences and punishment — and that’s one reason efforts to discipline children can be ineffective.
A consequence is the result or direct effect of an action. The goal for giving consequences is to teach a lesson that leads the child to make positive choices. It encourages self-examination, accepting responsibility for one’s actions, the ability to learn from mistakes, and the development of an inner voice of self-control. Consequences give your child the message that he is capable of taking responsibility for problems and can handle them.
Punishment is defined by Merriam-Webster as “suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution.” The goal is to inflict hurt, pain and to get even. Punishment can cause resentment and rarely teaches a child what you want him to learn. It also can be damaging to your child’s self-esteem and does not facilitate secure attachment.
Here are some examples of punishment versus consequences:
Punishment v. Consequences
|Backtalking/disrespect||Mouth washed out with soap||Child loses privileges until attitude improves|
|Chores not done||Goes to bed early||“I would be glad to give you a ride as soon as you complete your chores.”|
|Damaging property||Spanked and grounded||Does extra chores to pay for damage|
|Misbehavior at the dinner table||No TV||Excused from the table|
|Lying||Sit in the corner with face to wall||Must earn trust back by demonstrating honesty|
|Stealing||Yelled at and lectured||Makes amends to store or person|
|Fails in school||Grounded at home||Studies rather than playing at recess|
Why punishment doesn’t work
It backfires. Punishment is almost always delivered with anger. Using anger as a tool isn’t effective — especially in wounded children, who tend to have a high tolerance for negativity, conflict and chaos. Negativity fuels their defiance and strengthens their sense of power. If you are not in control, then they are. To them, being in control is much more important than any punishment you can impose.
It is temporary. Punishment teaches children to respond out of fear rather than out of a desire to please or do the right thing. There is no long-lasting development of an inner compass. This does not lead to self-control or self-discipline.
It reinforces the child’s negative view of self. Wounded children see themselves as bad and undeserving of love — and they often believe they deserve to be punished. This creates self-fulfilling prophecy: If you believe you are bad and deserve punishment, you will act badly. When you act badly, you become angrier, feel worse about yourself and escalate oppositional behavior. This is a vicious cycle provoking additional punishment. Each punitive experience reinforces the child’s negative self-esteem and creates an expectation by the child and others of additional bad behavior.
It provokes revenge. Consequences teach children that when they make a choice, they set into motion a set of circumstances for which they are responsible and accountable. With punishment, children are too busy being mad at you to think about what they did wrong. Punishment makes the child feel angry and resentful. When defiant children get angry, they get even.
It maintains emotional distance. Punishment can create wounds that make children fearful of trusting and loving others. Wounded children believe they must maintain emotional distance to protect themselves from the possibility of future injury. Punishment feeds into their defenses against being close and reinforces a “me against you” mentality.
A great thing to do instead of punish
We call it “Think-It-Over Time.” This is a constructive consequence similar to “time out” in that parents and their child take a break, which can de-escalate a tense situation. The goal is to help your child learn, communicate and achieve positive change. There are three steps:
1. Tell your child to sit for a brief time to think about her behaviors and choices.
2. When you are ready, not when your child demands, go to your child.
3. If your child responds appropriately — with honesty and without blaming others — give praise, a big hug, a warm smile and the assurance that all is forgiven. If your child does not respond appropriately, say, “I guess you need more time to think it over. I’ll be back soon.”
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I was punished constantly, by both of my parents, especially my dad. Now as an adult I am plagued by obtrusive thoughts that tell me I’m bad, wrong, sick, messed up, etc. All things my dad has said or inferred. I get violently ill when my mind beats me to death with his voice. I want so bad to heal and be stable.
Brooke, Have you tried trauma therapy? Look into getting an experienced therapist to help you out.
We are raising a Grandchild, this child was abused on so many different levels. We have had lots of therapy throughout the years. As years are passing by it seems as if our Grandchild is getting worse and pulling away from us. And we are the ones that have been positive and loving and always there. Can you give us any advice on what to do next?
First, we’re sorry you’re experiencing this relationship trouble. Our best advice is for you to read Terry Levy and Michael Orlans’ book, “Healing Parents: Helping Wounded Children Learn to Trust and Love.” It can be ordered from our website.
Hello! Thank you for the informative article. I have a question. My 9 y o son behaves like those with oppositional defiant disorder, disrespectful, resentful and constatly braking rules. When I ask him to go to his room and “think it over” he refuses to do it. How you advise me to act here? Also, when I explain that this was disrespectful and demanding and telling him what behaviour I expect he usually answers “I am playing like that”, I explain that this is not appropriate, he still affirms me that he will continue this behaviour and “playing” like this. It feels like power struggle and he wants to win by any means.
Veronika, I cannot give specific advice about your son without knowing the details. However, this type of defiant behavior often reflects other emotional issues with him and/or the family. Rather than focusing only on his behavior and the power struggle, try to find out what he is thinking, feeling and experiencing on a deeper level. Be a good listener and maybe he will talk with you.
I can’t really differentiate so if i ask my child 4yo to finish his dinner so he can go out or watch tv is that a punishment in another wording no TV if you don’t finish your dinner.
What if he throws toys , runs during meals, hitting shouldn’t he get grounded
Best wording: “You can watch TV as soon as you finish your dinner.” Best consequence for negative behavior is the “think about it spot.” Child sits for a few minutes and thinks about behavior, than answers questions: “Why are you sitting, what were you thinking and feeling, what is better to do next time rather than negative behavior.” Important that parent remains calm; not triggered into anger or fear by child. Child must learn 4 R’s: Respect, Responsibility, Resourceful, and Reciprocity. Be patient and consistent.
I needed this website! Dealing with a 15 year old female, with an undiagnosed anoxic brain injury from traumatic birth, PMDD, executive function disorder. She also has disfiguring scoliosis, psoriasis arthritis, and acne. Absent father, and no other family(drugs, alcoholism and violence)…bullied physically and emotionally all throughout school. Suddenly abandoned by a mentor whom she really looked up to, with no reason given. It’s a lot for her to deal with, emotionally and I know she holds in a lot of anger. I’m also a disabled Veteran with a brain injury, dysthymia, and physical limitations. I know it’s a lot for her to deal with, and she harbors a lot of anger and confusion. She has developed a lying habit, being manipulative, destructive when she doesn’t get her way. She does not respect authority. I’ve had her in counseling for years. She lies to the counselor and gloats about everything that’s great. The counselor doesn’t know why she is in counseling, other than to “touch base and give her someone to talk to other than mom.” She can speak of good coping mechanisms when in counseling, but does not implement them in the moment. She refuses to do continue with CBT. She refuses to do her home-therapy for her scoliosis. Anytime I try to teach her a limestone or model something to her, she gets frustrated and does the complete opposite of what she’s told. “Wash your face please and then apply the medication.” I notice she didn’t wash her face and goes straight to applying medication. I explained this is a waste and will not help her condition, she must start with the basics of cleanliness before the treatment. She gets pissed off, rolls her eyes, says “I do what I want” and continues on, not washing. She’ll forget to wash the dishes and just rinse them then stack them in the drainer. I tell her they need to be washed first. She continues on just ringing as if she never heard me. I start putting them back in the soapy water, it causes an argument. I tell her then she needs to turn her music off because it’s obviously getting in the way of her being able to focus and do the job properly. She says she is being punished. I say no, it’s an earned consequence of your actions. By reading this website, it seems to confirm my thoughts. I don’t want a child that resents me. But I also would consider myself failing as a mother if I didn’t even attempt to teach her these skills amd that while we eventually all develop our own ways of doing specific tasks, somethings just need to be done a certain way. Being a 15 year old, she has sprung interest I having a job, namely at a diner or ice cream shop. I stated that if she were to do the dishes as she was doing at hoke, by just rinsing them and not actually soaking and washing, she would surely get into trouble and the business could possibly be fined and shut down. She said “yeah right. Well at least I’d be getting paid.” Clearly not understanding that she would be risking keeping the job AND the pay check. What gives? If the lying doesn’t stop, I will be stopping purchasing anything extra for her and I will need proof of everything that she states (such as pick up tines, locations, dates, planners, calenders, “show me what you cleaned” etc. I find it highly disrespectful to lie to anyone, let alone the ONE person that has stuck by herself her entire life, when everyone else found it so easy to let her down and walk away. I understand that she’s hurt, but it’s not fair to me to be afraid to have boundaries. She is running me ragged and broke, and then lying to me about things she doesn’t even need to lie about. One instance was one time she created a fake name and account so that she could write fictional stories based on stories she had created. She hid it and lied to me about it for a year. When I finally found out, SHE actually had a melt down. She was irrational and made up a bunch of excuses that were pretty dramatic, and non-existent. I stayed calm and actually explained to her that it was never necessary to hide something like that from me, that she should’ve just asked if it was ok if she was unsure and we could talk about it if needed, and I was actually proud that she had taken up writing–writing is great! I asked to read some of her pieces and they were pretty darn good. I’m honestly at a loss. Keep going, change what I’m doing, or totally just give up? I don’t want to live with a liar/manipulater. It’s mentalally abusive. Is it coercion if I tell her that she can only stay here if she works on her lying/manipulating, temper, following directions, wtc? The other option would be in-patient mental hospital. She’s such a busy teenager with lots of activities like band, choir, theater, and dance, so if she would be hospitalized, she would lose all of that. I know that’s what keeps her happy. But it’s keeping me paying. Each thing seems to have t-shirts, banquets, performance tickets, professional pictures, etc. Where I do draw the line? It breaks my heart to think about missing out on those things. Shirts would be for her, puctires for me. Banquet Dinners for her. Performances for both of us. Do I just not go unless she buys my ticket and doesn’t lie that week? She gets money for her grades and chores, so make her pay for everything that’s extra? Is that cruel and not what 15 year olds can be held responsible for? Idk.
See my email
Jamie, Family therapy and parent-child therapy may be more helpful. Focus on changing your relationship with your daughter; “change the dance.” You cannot change her, but you can change yourself(your actions, reactions and mindset). Learn constructive communication and conflict-management in your relationship. This may help her share her real pain and fear, rather than only act-out in angry and defiant ways.