How Should I Punish My Kid?

by Mary Simmons, M.A.

group of happy kidsParents ask, "Am I being too harsh?" "Am I being too lenient?" "What consequences should I use?" Then, with despair, they say, "It doesn’t seem to matter what I do because my kid doesn't seem to respect me anyway. (Why doesn't my kid respect me?)"

Here's one of the Teen Commandments from "Discipline Me Right": "Thou shalt hold me accountable."

Parents seem to think it matters which consequences they choose for their children's behavior. They seem to think there's a right consequence for every action. With little kids, they wonder if they should spank, or put them in time-out, or take away privileges or a favorite toy as a consequence for bad behavior. With the bigger kids, parents wonder if they should ground them, take away the car keys, their cell phone or their computer privileges. I'm here to tell you that it doesn't matter what you do; there is no right consequence for every action. What matters is that you do what you say you're going to do.

Follow through

Kids are watching everything you do. They are taking note of what you say, and then they take note of what you actually do. Kids respect parents who are people of their word. For example, if a parent rants that a child is grounded for a week, then the parents gives in the next day, the child knows the parent is not a person of his word.

Stick to your guns. This isn't only about what is best for your kid; it's what is best for you, too. Your kid needs to respect you, and you need their respect. That means you are a person of your word. That means that whatever you said you would do as a punishment needs to be exactly what you do, in spite of their protests and tears. The trick is choosing a punishment you can actually back up and follow through with.

Reasonable Punishment

One rule that parents need to follow is that you punish just one day at a time. You don't say, "You're grounded for a week," or "You can't use your cell phone for the next month." Those are totally unrealistic and said in a moment of anger and desperation. With little kids, you don't say, "You can't play with your fire truck for a month!" Just one day without the fire truck will make an impression, if the fire truck is truly desired. With teens, just one day without the cell phone is enough to send them into a panic, believe me. Punish one day at a time. If the behavior improves, give the item back the next day and express your belief that your child will behave well.

If the bad behavior continues, you haven't hit them yet where they live. If you take away a kid's computer privileges, but they can access the internet on their phone -- that is not an effective punishment. If you take away TV privileges, but allow them to play video games, that is not an effective punishment. You need to take away something they truly desire -- but only a day at a time, and only if the behavior has improved.

Get a Backbone

This means that you, as the parent, cannot and will not back down in spite of manipulation. Kids will cry, scream, rant and rave to get their way. It's their job to test you. Know that. You cannot back down because it is best for your child to be held to the consequences of right and wrong. You will not back down because your reputation as a parent in your child's eyes is at stake.

Mary Simmons is a teacher, parent, and author. Her father, Bert Simmons, is an educational consultant in the area of school discipline. Together, with the insights of Mary's teen-aged students, they have put together a powerful, comprehensive guide to instilling and reinforcing positive, respectful behavior in children. Discipline Me Right is available through Amazon.com and your local bookstore. For more parenting tips and information about the book, visit Discipline Me Right.

Copyright © Mary Simmons. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC. Image © Guillermo Ossa.