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Why Parents Shouldn’t Punish Kids for Their Mistakes

In today’s society, we place a tremendous amount of pressure on our children to succeed—not simply in school alone but also in finding overall success throughout their lives.

This leads many of us to question just how much pressure we should put on our kids when teaching them how to learn from their mistakes.

Parents should not punish children for their mistakes. Mistakes are learning opportunities that your child needs to experience to assist them in learning to grow and develop into successful, flourishing adults. When we assist our children in teaching them what is wrong versus what is right and allow them to explore those ideas, they can learn to make the right choices in the future without fear of being reprimanded, creating a teachable moment of lasting value.

There should be a distinguishing difference between the terms “punish” and “discipline.”

“Punish” sounds so much more harsh than the term “discipline”, may even have physical associations, and could harm the bond of your family.

According to eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care, “Discipline is a positive method of teaching a child self-control, confidence, and responsibility.

Punishment focuses on past misbehavior and offers little or nothing to help a child behave better in the future” (source). 

According to this research, your child can understand the concept of consequences as early as three years old.

This is a perfect time to teach your child to learn and develop effective communication skills and share with them why the mistake they made was wrong, in a way that they can understand.

This teaches your child the cause and effect of their actions instead of scaring them with punishment and having them not understand why they got in trouble. 

Sometimes, however, it becomes necessary to discipline your child for their bad behavior, which is certainly inevitable as they head into their teenage years. So how do you properly discipline your child?

First, consider just how old your child is. Older children will outgrow many disciplinary actions that worked in their younger years.

However, you can take certain measures to be highly effective in properly disciplining your child. 

Some effective consequences for preteens and teens are as follows: 

Take Away Electronics

Whether we like it or not, screen time is vital to most preteens and teens. And restricting those privileges is now one of the most effective disciplinary measures parents can take.

It does not need to be for an extended period; typically 24 hours is long enough for them to get the point. 

Impose a Break From Friends

This is vitally important, especially if your child’s poor behavior involved their friends.

Grounding your child for a short period or making them cancel their fun plans for the weekend can encourage them to think about making better choices in the future. 

Allow Natural Consequences

Natural consequences are often the best way for your child to learn a lesson on their own.

If your child is faced with a natural consequence, allow that process to take place so they can experience those consequences and own up to their actions.  

Strengthen the Rules

Often, when your child violates the household rules, they are not respecting the freedom and the boundaries you have given them.

This is when you need to tighten up the rules a bit to get them to respect those rules and the freedom they had.

They can earn freedom with trust and respect, and if they step over that line, you need to tighten up the rules again.

Enforce Logical Consequences and Acts of Restitution

If your child’s behavior has hurt someone, help them come up with a plan of restitution.

If they have broken something, they need to replace it or perhaps do some extra work around the house to pay for it. If they have hurt someone, they need to apologize to learn to accept responsibility for their actions.

Take Away Privileges

Taking away privileges until your child finishes performing extra chores or tasks will teach them that they can earn those privileges back once they have completed their duties (source). 

Understand the Context of the Situation

If your child is entering their high school years, a time-out for bad grades or talking back clearly won’t cut it.

However, setting boundaries and eliminating wants (not needs) in their lives is usually a good way to get a pre-teen or teen’s attention.

If they want to go out with their friends or veg out on their cell phone or tablet, they must show respect in your household and at school.

As a parent, it is your duty to guide your children to learn character development, respect, honor, and love, among so many other things.

However, that respect begins in the home, and if your child is losing respect for you, your spouse, teachers, or their peers, you really need to get back to the basics and explore the problem at hand. 

Friendships and other types of relationships will become increasingly more important to your child as they enter their teen years.

They will yearn for more privacy, spend more time on social media, keep their conversations and interactions more private, and simply want to spend more time in their room, keeping their personal lives behind closed doors.

While this is all perfectly normal, you want to keep a close eye on your child while still respecting their desire for privacy to figure certain things out for themselves.

Just be sure to keep your own doors open for your child to come to you when they desire.

Though privacy is normal for a teen, with so many emotions happening all at once, this is also a likely time for your teen to develop a mental health disorder if they do not understand how to cope with such emotions. 

Preteens and teens are quickly transitioning into adults, and this truly is a crazy time in their lives.

They strive for independence and are going to really push their boundaries to see where those limitations are and what lines they can and cannot cross.

Your child will be more argumentative and may even go behind your back to do something, even when you have laid down the law and told them they could not do it.

They are changing in so many different ways (mentally, emotionally, and physically) that it is perfectly normal for them to act like an adult in many ways and then like a complete child in other ways. 

If your child is still exhibiting anger and other behavioral issues that are not being corrected by disciplinary action, you may want to seriously consider whether they are experiencing externalizing behavior.

This includes physical aggression, disobeying rules, cheating, stealing, and destruction of property. Externalizing behaviors are common among children but can be experienced into adulthood” (source).

When you learn how to properly identify externalizing behaviors, you can meet your child where they are and help them learn to acknowledge those feelings and change them for the better.

This is of the utmost importance because if your child does not learn how to deal with these emotions early on, they will not know how to address them later in life. 

Children and teens who show signs of externalizing behavior may exhibit issues like verbal or physical bullying, aggression, vandalism, theft, and defiance.

They tend to want to harm (emotionally or physically) other people instead of themselves (which is referred to as an internalizing behavior).

The most common reasons youth exhibit externalized behaviors is when they face difficult challenges in their lives or when they are feeling more troubled than usual.

Boys often show slightly higher levels of externalizing behavior than girls, particularly in displaying physical aggression.

 If your child is displaying signs of externalizing behavior, early intervention is the key to ensuring that they get the help they need to learn the best ways to cope and deal with their emotions on a healthy level.

Speak with your child’s teacher or guidance counselor for a better sense of direction or reach out to a licensed mental health professional for assistance. 

Parenting is easily one of the most difficult jobs for any adult, and you must understand the unique relationship between yourself and your child to successfully balance it out.

When you are too overprotective of your children, they will lash out and will not understand how to make well-thought-out decisions. If you are too permissive, then your child will not learn how to behave responsibly.

You must find a middle ground to help to prevent behavioral problems before they get too out of control.  

Here are the top suggestions for doing so:

Don’t Compete for Power

You are likely well aware that your teen is quite good at arguing. When you ask your child to do something and they start a heated argument, it is crucial not to play their game.

Set boundaries, and if they cross them, proceed with the consequences. 

Set Your Expectations

Be sure to always make your expectations of your child clear and concise.

For example, if you are allowing them to go to the local high school football game, make it clear that they are to stay at the game and come home when it is over. 

Allow Them to Earn

It seems that the older our children get, the more expensive the items they want.

While purchasing a pricey item for your child may occasionally be okay, it may become necessary to use that to your advantage regarding your child’s behavior.

Spend Quality Time

Our kids grow fast. Too fast. And this is a harsh reality to face when you have a teenager.

Stay in your child’s world by meeting them where they are and setting aside time to do what is important to them.

Go see a movie they want to see, take them to a concert, or play a video game; these minuscule things will mean the world to them. 

Communication is vitally important during the teen years when emotions are running rampant.

While it may appear that you are fighting a losing battle in getting your child to open up about their day, let alone their friends or love-life, taking even the smallest steps can create an unbreakable bond of trust between you and your child. 

Here are some great ways to get started in opening the lines of communication:

Just Talk

Most parents claim that they don’t know how to talk to their kids, but kids only need to know that their parents care enough to listen to them.

You don’t always have to know the right thing to say – just be there. Ask them questions and genuinely listen and care about what they are saying. 

Keeping Talking

One of the best ways to get your child to open up is not to coerce them into doing it.

If you insist on sitting down at the dining room table for a “heart-to-heart,” you will only be met with groans and silence.

However, take them on a quick car ride and you may find that they are more willing to open up about the current events in their life. 

Don’t Force Them

If your child doesn’t want to talk to you, never try to force them to open up. It’s okay, and they’re allowed to feel reluctant.

Remind your child that they can open up to other people if needed – guidance counselors, older siblings, aunts or uncles, and even your spouse.

Remind them that they are loved, and you and others are willing to help when they are ready. 

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to dread disciplining your child. When you learn the means of effectively implementing disciplinary actions to help your child learn and grow, you are helping them to become better and more well-adjusted adults as well.

Discipline isn’t easy, but it can be effective and healthy for your child once you learn the proper measures of doing so.