Punishing My Kids – The Necessary Evil of Parenting

I hate punishing my kids – I’d rather re-direct, distract and resume playing with them in a more amiable manner.

I stink at being tough – and I could get away with that when my children were younger.  At that time, most of their wrongs were innocent – easier to excuse as normal “kids being kids” type behavior.

As my kids have gotten older, though, the need to find adequate punishments for their shortcomings is heightened.

My kids are great but they will constantly push – testing their boundaries and taking cues about how mad I’ll be in a given situation.

They notice inequities in my punishments – particularly if I’m tougher on them for a similar mistake that an older sibling has made already.

Finding meaningful, consistent ways to correct behavior may define the time when my parenting style begins to shift from physical labor to more mental wherewithal.

My almost-middle-schooler is forcing that change quickly (and rightfully).  He is teaching me that a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work.

The range in ages of my five children require differing consequences – some are easy, others are not, and all require me to be better.

(1) Pre-school Age

Usual offenses: check-out line tantrums, hitting, biting and refusing to go to bed

Consequences: Timeouts of varying intervals according to a child’s age seem to be the prevailing punishment for this age (i.e.- a timeout for a 2 year-old lasts two minutes).  To me, these are the “Super Nanny” years where it is important to be as stern as caring – careful to discipline without being over-the-top. 

What doesn’t work: Shaming or comparing their outbursts to well-behaved kids around doesn’t work for me.  Raising my voice to out-yell them is equally ineffective.  Both, regrettably, add fuel to the fire. 

(2) Ages 4 to 6

Usual offenses: issues with sharing, talking back, yelling, spitting, eating boogers

Consequences: This age is caught between punishment by taking away a privilege or special possession and the upgraded timeout (sending them to their room indefinitely).  For my kids, this is the age where my disciplinary chops begin to show weakness and, worse yet, my little devils can detect my inadequacies instantly.

I generally end up settling for the extended timeout.  

What doesn’t work: Taking away “stuff” seems futile – kids at this age either have an attachment that is strong and makes our lives easier, or no real coveted possession.  In either case, taking something away is either too painful or simply meaningless.

(3) Ages 7 to 9

Usual offenses: lying, deception, sneaking technology, taking short-cuts, blaming (or setting up) younger siblings

Consequences: Grounding my kids from privileges and possessions seems to be the most effective punishment.  By now, they covet earned screen time and are beginning to have regular sleep-overs with friends.  Taking those privileges away leaves a scar they indeed will think about next time.

What doesn’t work: “Go to your room!”  does nothing at this point – other than buys me time to think of how to install a real, meaningful consequence.

(4) Age 10 to 12

Usual offenses:  exaggerated, impactful versions of the “Ages 7 to 9” offenses.

For example – not only lying, but getting caught doing so and denying the fib within an inch of their life even though a teacher witnessed the whole thing. 

Consequences:  A parent has to make these offenses meaningful by enforcing punishments that make a real impact to something they love.  In these cases it does, indeed, suck to be a parent.  The consequence I own will hurt and, likely, make my life more difficult in the short-term.

They are, however, necessary.    

Creating a lasting impact, for me, is two-fold:

First, I have to take away something my kids love for a period of time that makes sense and that they feel in control of.  It seems to me more impactful to take away a passion if my pre-teen understands how they can be part of earning it back.

Second, the use of manual labor.  I’m not evangelizing anything cruel or humiliating – just introducing chores they would never think to help with. 

I have a yard full of leaves my son is now working on.  I like these “old-school” consequences because, frankly, obligatory household chores get my kids away from the mind-numbing LED screens and force them outside with time to think and a clear mission.    

What doesn’t work:  The sure-fire way to tell if the consequences are adequate for my 10 year-old: if he agrees without reservation or attempt at negotiation. 

If I gain a quick, tear-less, non-head-down consensus, then I’m letting him off too easy and my punishment will have no real impact.   

Being able to end this list at age 12 right now feels good.

I’m not too proud to admit that the teenager years are terrifying and, thankfully, a few years away for me.

As my kids get older, though, I’m confronted with the fact that I can have an impact – not only by way of levying adequate punishments – but in helping them learn to avoid the next offense.

It is not easy and today I stink at it – proof positive that I must get better.

After all, the teen years are coming quickly.


One Comment

  1. Matthew Peterson

    We have a pre-defined punishment list. No arguments or yelling. Everyone knows what is going to happen to them. Saves time and frustration.

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