Today we are going to look further into the idea of using punishment and the 5 negative consequences that can follow.  In my last article, I mentioned that the goal of discipline is to lead, guide, and direct kids towards pro-social behaviors.  In contrast, punishment tells kids what to avoid and what not to do, or they will experience some form of pain!   To better understand the negative consequences of punishment, let’s take a brief look at Joey’s story from last week’s article:

It was a hot summer day, and Mom was excited to take her two young boys to the beach.  About mid-day, six-year-old Joey started throwing sand at his brother.  In response, Mom said sternly, “If you don’t quit throwing sand, I’ll give you a good reason to stop!”  Within minutes, Joey was throwing sand again. Frustrated, Mom yelled, “That’s it!  Get yourself over here right now, young man!  You are ruining our time.  Why can’t you be like your brother and act friendly?”  Then, Mom slapped Joey firmly on the wrist and said, “Now, stop it!”  She then proceeded to give him the silent treatment.

This interaction shows that Mom used several punitive techniques to motivate Joey to change his behavior. Let’s take a look at the potential long-term effects that each technique can have on Joey’s emotional and social development.  Let’s explore:

Punishment:  5 Negative Consequences

Verbal threat: “If you don’t quit throwing sand, I’ll give you a good reason to stop!”  Threats can decrease Joey’s sense of emotional connection and security.  Even more, it can increase his fear of being physically hurt, increase his fear of being misunderstood emotionally, and sabotage his ability to learn pro-social behaviors.

Guilt: “You are ruining our time.”  Using guilt to help Joey stop old behaviors and learn new behaviors can cause him to feel that he is alone and responsible for the family’s lack of fun.  Using guilt to motivate a child can stifle his ability to learn pro-social behaviors as well as fracture the parent/child relationship.

Shame: “Why can’t you be like your brother and act friendly?” This type of comparison can lead Joey to believe that he is unacceptable or never good enough, or that he only has value when he is acting just like his brother.

Physical pain: Slapping Joey firmly on the wrist.  When physical pain is used on a consistent basis, it can lead Joey to associate more fear and intimidation with his mom each time she engages him.  Ironically, it can help him associate pain with his Mom and decrease his ability to learn pro-social behaviors.

The Silent Treatment: Ostracize Joey by ignoring his existence.  As Joey gets excluded, ignored, or rejected by his mom, it can undermine his need to belong and any positive feelings about himself.  The silent treatment can produce negative emotions that become so overwhelming to manage that learning anything new can become impossible.  Even more, the silent treatment is a way of saying, “You’re dead to me!”  It shows Joey what life can look like if he was dead or didn’t exist.  It can lead Joey to experience feelings of emotional abandonment and rejection.  Over time, he may end up feeling like he does not matter to his mom or even himself!


Yes, punishment has its place because it can stop unsafe, unruly, and unwanted behaviors.  However, it’s safe to assume that if you allow intense frustration to govern how you manage children, it can undermine your ability to parent effectively.  If you punish in frustration, it may offer you immediate relief but don’t forget the negative impact it carries.  Frequent or harsh punishment promotes only momentary compliance.  For example, Joey’s mom often hit, criticized, and shouted at him.  But as soon as she was out of sight, Joey usually displayed unwanted behavior(s) again.

Frequent and harsh punishment can set children up to feel misunderstood, alone, and rejected.  Even more, studies show that the more frequent and intense the punishment, the more likely Joey is to develop serious problems like depression, aggression, and poor social skills – something every parent wants to avoid!

A Point to Ponder

The next time you are about to express disapproval to your youngster, remember to stay aware and sensitive to his emotional needs.  Even more, don’t just tell him that you are aware of his emotions – go ahead and show him.  For example, I would have liked to hear Joey’s mom say something like, “It seems to me that you want to play with your brother, but it’s hard to ask him.  Sweetie, how about asking him to play instead of throwing sand at him?”  Children need to know that they are loved, cherished, and important, even when they display unwanted, obnoxious, and unsafe behavior with others.


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Steve Cuffari

Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more affective. He is the founder of inTouch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today's parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive.         read more about Steve Cuffari here...

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