Crime and Punishment

I have to admit, I took a hard-line approach to discipline with my boys when they were younger.  I did everything I could to establish my authority which was really more about me wanting to control my kids.  Believe me, I suffered some serious backlash.  As they have gotten older, I’ve been able to let go of control more and I ask them for their input as much as I can.

As I’ve tried to be more open to my boys’ thoughts and feelings, I still cling to certain disciplinary tactics.  In reading Dr. Shefali’s Tsabary’s book “Out of Control:  Why Disciplining Your Child Won’t Work and What Will“, she states that punishments do little to solve any parenting problems.  They may momentarily allay the situation, but they don’t impact children’s behavior in the long run.

“Artificial consequences don’t work because they don’t make sense to a child.  The child can’t connect with them because they are illogical and arbitrarily imposed.  I tell parents that unless a consequence truly is a consequence and not a punishment, it will always backfire and thereby perpetuate bad behavior– and in addition cause a rift between parent and child.”

I decided to apply this thought process to a recent struggle I am having with my eight year old.  He tends to lash out physically in the heat of the moment when playing competitively.  Initially, I went with my old method of taking away his favorite stuffed animal for an indefinite amount of time.  This only seemed to escalate his frustration.  I tried to look at it from his point of view. Not only is he frustrated that he gets juked out by his older brother on a regular basis, when he expresses this frustration he loses his beloved animal.  Now, he feels frustrated, ashamed and hurt.


I sat him down and told him that I completely understand his frustration, however, drop-kicking his brother in the stomach is not acceptable (yes, that really happened).  I told him if he gets frustrated, come tell me and I will help him set up something to play by himself so he can finish his time outside.  I also said he could have his animal back.  His little shoulders sagged in relief.  He then inadvertently noted how a built-in natural consequence arose.

“But Mom, it’s no fun to play by myself.  It’s boring,” he said.

“Then maybe you need to learn ways to not hurt your brother and friends on purpose,” I replied.

I don’t know if ultimately this is the right approach, but I can tell you this, it sure felt a whole lot better than meanly taking away his stuffed animal to assert my control.

Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent

Tsabary, PhD., S. (2013)  Out of Control:  Why Disciplining Your Child Doesn’t Work and What Will.  Vancouver, British Colombia.  Namaste Publishing.