Why I Hate the Word “Punishment.”

Posted December 9, 2011 by

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Got kids?

Then you must be very familiar with the word PUNISHMENT.

“If you come home too late then I will punish you.”

“If you don’t do your homework again then you’ll really get punished.”

“Wait until I tell your father… then you’ll definitely get punished.”

Who on earth came up with this particular linguistic phrase — and why do we feel a need to be so utterly threatening and punitive with our children? Do we feel that if we instill deeply rooted fear that they will become kind, law-abiding citizens? Really? I think not.

I think that children, especially teens, who are threatened frequently with punishment are more likely to develop fear, to lie, to avoid PUNISHMENT and to view their parents as punitive and harsh individuals.

So, what’s the alternative?

I suggest talking about:

1. Consequences – That sounds more neutral than some sort of emotional and physical torture.

2. Repair Work – This refers to what the child/teen can do to make things right. Perhaps he pays for the broken window with his allowance.

3. Natural Outcomes – Talking about what this action will mean. Got homework? Not doing it? Do you care if you don’t pass that class?

Now this may simply seem like a semantic issue, but I think not. Words, my fellow parents, are extremely powerful.

Your thoughts?


Barbara is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and their well-intentioned but exhausted parents. She is the co-author of Teenage as a Second Language-A Parents Guide to Becoming Bilingual with Jennifer Powell-Lunder PsyD and the co-creator of the website http://www.talkingteenage.com.

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