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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  1. Ilene Steinberg, CEO LiceLifters Report

    I am an empowered parent by my two older sisters and by having a wonderful mother. I learned a lot by observing them and their styles. We have parented our 4 children 14,13,9 & 6 consequences, making things right and now that our oldest is a teenager he is experiencing his natural outcomes with school work. I am proud to say we have wonderful kids so far. If you take the these extra steps when they are little it pays off for the future.

  2. Cindi F. Report

    I feel this is a little bit of semantics as my children consider their consequences punishments whether I give them that title or not. I don’t go around telling my kids I am going to punish them but I have heard them use the terms consequences and punishment interchangeably. Whatever you call it I feel it can be effective if its well thought out, consistent and fits the behavior needing corrected.

  3. Carrie Silverberg - ADHD Consultant and Coach Report

    I agree with you Barbara! Yes, while this may seem like a common sense approach, often when parents are frustrated, exhausted or just don’t know what to do anymore they think in terms of ‘punishment’ rather than logical and/or natural consequences. It does take a little more thought in the beginning but with practice it can become a way of thinking and speaking not only for the parent but for their child/teenager as well.
    I have worked with many families to help them adopt this approach. More often than not, they are pleasantly surprised by the results. Parents feel better as they don’t feel like the ‘bad guy’ and their kids tend to learn quickly what the results of their actions will be. Even with some of the most oppositional children I have found this approach to be successful.

  4. Hetty Report

    Our son is only three, but we make a point of trying to explain consequences to him instead of simply punishment. It takes a lot more effort, but we want him to know that there are reasons why we do certain things. Hopefully, it helps him grow into a more thoughtful adult.



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