How Not To Punish Your Kids

There’s no avoiding the need to punish our kids from time to time. When they speak back to their mother, when they hurt their little brother, when they fail the vocab test—we have to do something. But what? If our goal is to deter the behavior in the future, what should we do?

Sometimes it’s helpful to begin with what we shouldn’t do. A little while back, the political and communications consultant Liz Mair gave us parents a lesson in what not to do. Mair took to twitter to share, “I have resorted to burning Pokémon cards as a punishment when my kid doesn’t do basic stuff he has to do.” In a follow-up tweet, she added the example that sometimes her son comes home from school with a full lunchbox. When he doesn’t eat his lunch, “Card burnt.”

While we know Liz wasn’t being completely serious, the sad truth is that it’s actually not all that different from some typical forms of punishment we’ve all probably used. Have you ever grounded your kids? Have you ever told them to go to their rooms? Have you taken away their toys or their iPad privileges? These all send the same message as does burning their Pokemon cards: do what I want you to do or lose out.

It might work in the short run, but as the writer and actor Seth Rogan tweeted back at Mair, “Save the valuable ones so they can pay for therapy when they’re older.”

Punishment shouldn’t be about withdrawing, withholding, and taking away. Punishment, as we’ve said, should make them better. Like a coach who punishes poor performance with an extra conditioning session or a judge who punishes a minor infraction with a community service project, our job is to use punishment as a tool to make our kids better people. Sure, it requires a little more thought and creativity. But one day, they will come to you (and not a therapist) and thank you for it.

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