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4 Effective Alternatives To Punishing Your Kids

4 Effective Alternatives To Punishing Your KidsThis guest article from YourTango was written by Dr. Susan Heitler.

When parents think about discipline, all too often they equate discipline with punishment.

“What’s wrong with punishment?” you may ask. First, punishment is costly. It results in kids feeling badly, both about themselves and about you. And it’s not very effective. What’s worse is that whatever you focus on not wanting, you’ll get more of. The more you insist that they “don’t do that,” the more likely they will do it again.

If you add a threat, like, “Don’t do that again or I’ll… ” your odds of gaining compliance decrease even further. So what’s another way to think about discipline? Try focusing on the root inside of the word. Discipline comes from the same root as disciple. What’s a disciple? Someone you teach — hopefully in a kind way!

So instead, try these 4 alternatives to punishing your kids.

1. Prevention. If you don’t want kids to get fussy, feed them every few hours and make sure they get enough sleep. Most misbehavior comes from kids being tired and hungry. Prevention is a far easier solution than having to deal with after-the-fact irritation when they get grumpy or aggressive.

Prevention also includes such things as bringing activities or singing on a car trip; the children won’t get bored, effectively lowering the chance of leading to future negative behavior.

What if you want to talk on the phone? First, set your child up with an engaging activity, then launch your phone conversation. One of the best methods of prevention is building routines for transitions. Routines prevent arguments.

For instance, ring a dinner bell or call just once when dinner is ready. Practice it, and add an incentive when you first start a routine to get it established. An incentive might be a chocolate M&M on the plate of each child that appears after you count to three, after the dinner bell rings. Once you’ve established a routine for whatever situations once led to arguments, your life and your children’s lives becomes far easier.

2. Distraction. You are visiting with friends, and your child is playing with something very breakable. Skip the “don’ts”. Just pick him up, whisk him elsewhere, and as you do, tell him a story or fasten his attention on something else in the room.

He’s not eating? Distract him with a game of  “the airplanes are coming in for a landing!”  Each “airplane” is a spoonful of food that you zoom in circles through the air and then “land” in his mouth.

3. Explanation. Explanations for little guys work best when they are formatted as short, brief mantras, rather than lengthy paragraphs. “No balls in the house. Balls are for throwing outside.” Or, “Sisters are not for punching; they’re for playing with.”

Be sure when you state the rule that you end with the should do. The part children remember most is the last part, so give the “don’t” first and then, conclude with the “do.”

4. Appreciation. Someone once coined the phrase, “Catch them doing it right.” If children have helped to pick up their toys, comment on how nicely they are learning to sort and store. If they have carried their plate to the sink after dinner, say, “Wow! You are helping out like a big boy. I’m so impressed!”

Remember, whatever you focus on, you’ll get more of.

Parenting is a skilled activity — technique and effort matter. Learn techniques for getting children to do what you want them to do and to cease doing what you don’t want. Parenting will feel far easier and more joyful, and your kids will most likely turn out to be confident, positive additions to your life.

One last tip that’s key to raising a happy and emotionally healthy family. Learn cooperative partnering skills so you’ll be a great parenting team. Marriage education classes are held in most communities.  ((You can even get marriage ed communication skills courses online as in my own online program If the home in which your kids grow up radiates sunshine between the adults, your kids will have the strongest launch possible into successful adulthood.


Susan Heitler, Ph.D. is a Denver clinical psychologist and author of the online program, PowerOfTwoMarriage for learning the skills for relationship and marriage success.

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4 Effective Alternatives To Punishing Your Kids

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APA Reference
Experts, Y. (2018). 4 Effective Alternatives To Punishing Your Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 6 Aug 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.